A former green card holder, I now live in “Hellhole”—aka Brussels–as President Trump once called it. In light of the terrorist attacks of Paris and Brussels, President Trump’s Ban (Executive Order 13769) aimed at “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” also finds supporters here. Like most people undoubtedly, I have no problem with vetting immigrants and refugees. All responsible countries do it. Yet, there are issues with the ban that make you wonder about Trump’s conception of the rule of law and the ban’s real purpose.
The President is Not Above the Constitution
Besides the appearance of unpreparedness and improvisation plaguing the ban, what is disturbing are the arguments contrived to promote it. Several of these issues have been raised by the latest Federal court decision (pdf) against which Trump raged.
What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
I find it unsettling that “The Government contends that the district court lacked authority to enjoin enforcement of the Executive Order because the President has ‘unreviewable authority to suspend the admission of any class of aliens’ … even if [his] actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections” (p 13). Basically, the Administration is saying that the courts cannot argue with the President when he makes a decision regarding the admission of aliens, me included, even if according to the courts, it violates the Constitution. This surely should raise some flags for anyone who has any knowledge of the history of the twentieth century and is in favor of the separation of powers. I am relieved that the court unanimously decided that this “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy” (p. 14). Some issues are beyond the caricatural framing of liberals versus conservatives.
The problem with this ban is not just that it blatantly discriminates against a religion (p 25), it also deprives certain categories of people of their basic rights. I find it rather scary that the Administration thought they could just deny even permanent residents their legal rights. The court was right to condemn this abuse of power (p. 20). The Administration quickly saw that it had messed up with the rights of green card holders and corrected the Order by issuing a statement through the White House Counsel. The court appropriately estimated that to correct this mess a decision by the White House Counsel does not offer sufficient legal protection against the Executive Order (21–22).
The Vetting System in the USA is Already One of the Strictest in the World
Trump gives the impression that before his ban nothing was done to prevent “bad dudes” from entering the USA. Yet, getting accepted as a refugee or obtaining a green card has always been a long process, involving multiple vetting agencies.
As a Belgian citizen married to an American, it took me two years in the 90s to get a permanent resident permit. The process has become even more thorough since September 11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 so that the USA now has one of the strictest vetting systems in the world. The notion that unless the ban was put into effect immediately, hordes of dangerous refugees would immediately pour into the USA is ludicrous and demeaning to the many people who work protecting the USA every day.
Muslim Immigration is Grossly Exaggerated
The ban is part of Trump’s (and Bannon’s) strategy to feed the fear of an all-out invasion and attack by Muslims, a strategy also used by far-right parties in Europe. Yet all statistics demonstrate that the threat of Muslim immigration overrunning the USA and Europe is grossly exaggerated. For example, a recent study has shown (and confirmed former studies) that in the UK people estimate the Muslim population at 21%, when the actual figure is about 5%. The discrepancy is similar in Germany (estimate 19%, reality 6%), or Belgium (19%, 6%). In the USA people estimate the Muslim population to be 15%, while the reality is 1%! The perception is, of course, affected by the media and whether people live in urban or rural areas. The ban fans fears and racism and feeds on fear of losing one’s culture rather than addressing facts.
No Illegal Immigrants or Refugees Have Been Involved in Terrorist Attacks
Many have also noticed that, though the Executive Order starts by evoking September 11 as a motivation for its urgency, none of the terrorists of that fateful attack came from the seven countries targeted by the ban. As the court said
“The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” (26–27)
Trump’s Order would not have prevented September 11, nor the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando for that matter.
The terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016 are often given as examples to justify Trump’s Executive Order. Yes, some of the terrorists involved had travelled to fight in Syria. But they were not refugees or migrants. They were French and Belgian citizens.
Interestingly, in the list of “underreported” terror attacks recently issued by the Trump Administration, all the attacks carried out in the USA involved US citizens, not foreigners, illegal immigrants or refugees. As a matter of fact, no terrorist attacks have been carried out by foreigners or illegal immigrants in the USA since September 11. One of the reasons for this is that the vetting process already works.
The problem many countries are facing is not terrorism from migrants and refugees, but domestic radicalization. How and why does a minority (a tiny one for that matter) of young people from migrant backgrounds often born and raised in the West, as was the case also with the Orlando and San Bernardino attacks, become radicalized? The same question can also be raised about white supremacists. Why do a minority of them become terrorists (remember Oklahoma City, Charleston, Anders Breivik?)? That is the pressing issue facing the USA and many countries in Europe. Again, a ban against migrants and refugees would make no difference there.
The Ban Does Not Address the Problem of Safety
There is therefore a contrast between Trump’s laudable goal to make America safe and how he goes about it. Here too perceptions matter. Crime figures are notoriously hard to gather and to interpret. Still, according to official data, since 2001 there have been fewer than 20 fatalities per terror attack a year in the USA (see for example here). On the other hand, according to the FBI latest report of crime statistics, though violent crimes have decreased through the years in the USA, there were still about 15,000 murders in 2015, statistically several times higher than any country in Europe!
In the USA there are per year
fewer than 20 deaths through terrorist attacks since 2001
more than 15,000 homicides!
If Trump wants to make America safe, he does not seem to be starting with the most pressing issues. Americans are infinitely more likely to be killed by another American than by a terrorist. Since it attacks a nonexistent problem and avoids the real issues, Trump’s ban will not keep Americans safe. It’s a smokescreen.
What is the Point of This Ban?
It’s not a ban against Muslims, claims the administration. It’s about protecting the USA from dangerous people. Recently, a soldier was slightly injured in Paris by an Egyptian. President Trump took time from his busy schedule to tweet and warn us to get smart. Trump’s ban does not target Egypt. About the same time, six people were killed in a mosque in Québec City by a Caucasian Trump and Le Pen supporter. President Trump has yet to tweet about this tragedy!