FEB. 10, 2017 — Thank God that at least part of the government is functioning as it ought to. On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a temporary freeze on the president’s misguided ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries and his suspension of refugee resettlements.
Ostensibly, President Trump wants to suspend the refugee program and freeze immigration from the seven countries in order to give his administration time to review how the government vets visa and asylum requests. It would be foolish not to assess how such programs are working on a regular basis — that’s basic governmental accountability.
But absent evidence that the nation faces heightened risk under the current system, it should continue letting people who qualify for visas receive them, and provide asylum for refugees who deserve it. That the nation has not suffered a fatal terror attack by an immigrant from those seven countries since the vetting processes were tightened after 9/11 puts the lie to Trump’s panicky assertion that we face a great and imminent peril. Further, as the Cato Institute reported, only 20 of 154 people identified as foreign-born terrorists between 1975 and 2015 came from among the 3.3 million refugees settled here during that time. Those individuals caused the deaths of three victims; although any murder is to be decried, those statistics hardly support the level of alarm we see from our anguished president.
The damage Trump’s polices would cause exceeds whatever bit of good he can claim. Islamic State recruits in part by saying the West is at war with Islam, and Trump plays right into that group’s hands first with his rhetoric, and then with a travel ban affecting only majority Muslim countries. His policy strains relations with allies and disrupts the lives of countless people involved with businesses, universities, cultural programs and other endeavors that rely on international travel. And putting the refugee program on hiatus adds a layer of cruelty and frustration to the lives of people who have already been uprooted from their homes and forced to live as squatters in refugee camps or foreign cities while waiting to find a new place to call home.
Trump recently said the abrupt halt on visitors and immigrants was insisted on by his law-enforcement advisors. He initially wanted to give travelers a month’s notice, the president asserted, but he was persuaded that the delay would let terrorists swarm in before the ban took effect. That doesn’t pass the sniff test — refugees undergo up to two years of vetting, and visas for visitors and immigrants take weeks to process. There could be no such rush. The saddest part of Trump’s explanation is that Americans can’t be certain that their president, in the face of global backlash, wasn’t lying to blame others for the botched rollout.
Trump has framed his executive actions within a terrorism context, but they are part of an isolationist worldview descending on Washington that the nation hasn’t seen since the build up to World War II. The United States has used immigration to build a vibrant, economically successful society — among the wealthiest in world history. Yet Trump has slashed the number of refugees the U.S. will accept this fiscal year from the Obama-approved 110,000 to 50,000. As a candidate, Trump pledged to cut legal, non-refugee immigration as well. Recent bills introduced in Congress would cut in half the annual allotment of nearly 1 million green cards — which grant people lawful permanent status, often to join relatives or start businesses — and eliminate a visa lottery designed to encourage 50,000 people a year from countries with low immigration to the U.S. — an effort that increases American diversity.
Trump, and the people who have his ear, seek a less cosmopolitan and less diverse nation. This is a dangerously inward-looking view. America’s brightest future is through growth, both economically and in population. If there are any long-term thinkers in the Trump administration, they need to impress that on their boss before he causes too much harm.