President Trump is expected to sign orders Friday to temporarily freeze immigration from seven Muslim nations and halt refugee resettlements from everywhere — a classic example of a solution in search of problem, and just the kind of symbolic act that gives weight to radical Islamists when they argue that the U.S. is an enemy of their faith.
Trump's campaign for president was built on a foundation of fear and resentment, and that dark cloud hangs over these putative attempts to bolster national security. Based on a draft version of the executive order, it seems that Trump will impose a 30-day suspension of visas for people from seven predominately Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — while the government reviews and presumably tightens its visa-vetting protocols. He also will direct security officials to determine within 30 days what information they need to evaluate potential visitors, and list the countries around the world that don't provide it. Countries that don't correct the error of their ways within 60 days of that report — including the seven affected by the ban — will have their citizens barred until they comply.
Worse, Trump apparently plans to suspend U.S. acceptance of all refugees — people fleeing war or oppression for whom returning home is not an option — for 120 days as the government reviews and revises its screening procedures, and he is expected to slash the number of refugees the U.S. would accept through October 2017 from 110,000 (set by President Obama last September) to 50,000. Trump also will prioritize the resettlement of refugees seeking asylum on grounds of religious persecution, officially valuing people oppressed because of their religion over those targeted for political dissent, sexual orientation or other reasons.
And Trump wants plans drawn for "safe areas" for Syrians within Syria or nearby nations, which could help the administration at a later point if it wants to institute a longer-term ban on Syrian refugees. But the draft order offers no details on how the safe zones would be secured, or the legal basis for the U.S. establishing control of territory in a sovereign (if war-torn) state.
Such efforts to restrict access to the U.S. by people fleeing war-torn parts of the world would be misguided and inhumane. The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, reported in 2015 that in the 14 years after the 9/11 terror attacks, 784,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. Yet during that time only three resettled refugees were convicted on terror-related charges — two of them for plotting against an overseas target and the third for hatching "plans that were barely credible," according to the report. The vast majority of refugees allowed into the U.S. are first vetted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose screeners then recommend placements in third countries. When the U.S. gets a referral, it conducts its own security screening before offering resettlement, a process that routinely takes one to two years.
What's more, a study by the New America Foundation shows that 80% of the terrorist attacks in this country since 9/11 have been carried out by American citizens (although some of those perpetrators were naturalized citizens).
It is not surprising that some Americans are worried by the hostility directed at them from a small, radicalized segment of the Islamic world. But such fears should not be channeled into a broad, discriminatory retrenchment that is at odds with the best of our humanitarian principles — especially if that retrenchment would likely do little to protect us.
The U.S. became a wealthy world power in large part through immigration. And it's openness has provided a lifeline to the oppressed of the world — the U.S. has formally resettled more refugees than any other country (though at the moment it is not bearing its fair share of the burden of resettling the tens of millions of migrants currently fleeing war zones). Trump's actions are not only inhumane, they are a betrayal of what the United States stands for.