By Barbara Slavin
The Trump administration on Monday unveiled a revised version of its travel and immigration ban that addresses some of the flaws of a blocked first attempt but will still harm US interests even if it doesn’t survive the courts.
The purported aim of the executive order is “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry” by suspending for 90 days “nationals from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen” who do not already have valid visas to enter the United States. The ban, which goes into full affect March 16, also stops refugees from entering for 120 days and lowers the number of refugees that can come to the US this year by more than half, to 50,000.
Iraq is no longer included after an uproar that initially prevented former translators for US forces from entering the United States with valid visas. Green card holders and dual nationals are no longer targeted and Christians are no longer singled out for entry. But the new plan is still a potentially unconstitutional “Muslim ban” in that it affects citizens of Muslim-majority nations.
The attorney general of New York State, General Eric T. Schneiderman, issued a statement after the announcement that “while the White House may have made changes to the ban, the intent to discriminate against Muslims remains clear.” Schneiderman added that his office “is closely reviewing the new executive order, and I stand ready to litigate — again — in order to protect New York’s families, institutions, and economy.”
Schneiderman was among a number of state attorney generals who successfully sued to stop the first executive order.
Unlike the fanfare with which President Trump signed the first measure, the rollout of the revised version was subdued. It came after a weekend dominated by the president’s unsubstantiated claims that his predecessor had ordered the wiretapping of Trump Towers in New York in an investigation of suspected Trump campaign ties to Russia.
— Sean Spicer (@PressSec) March 6, 2017
The White House released a photo of Trump signing the executive order while three cabinet secretaries – from the departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security – read statements on camera but took no questions.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that the measure “will make America more secure,” but gave no details about how U.S. authorities would improve on what is already extreme vetting of travelers from the affected countries. A government fact sheet said only that the 90-day suspension “will allow for proper review and establishment of standards to prevent terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals.”
The new ban continues to exclude people from countries that have actually caused acts of terrorism in the United States – such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan – while disproportionately affecting Iran, whose nationals have not committed such crimes in the US.
Asked for his reaction, Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and former national security staffer for Republican Democratic administrations, said the ban was “unnecessary and counterproductive.” Riedel asked why “countries with a proven track record of failure to adequately vet their own nationals like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who have carried out terrorist acts inside the United States are excluded. Are we to conclude they pose no threat?”
The ban is indeed, unnecessary, both because foreigners coming to the United States already face lengthy scrutiny and because the majority of those charged with terrorist crimes since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks have been native-born Americans. Many were radicalized on the Internet, which no travel ban can prevent, and fell victim to propaganda from groups such as the Islamic State, which only benefits from perceptions of rising anti-Islamic prejudice in the United States.
The ban flies in the face of a study by Kelly’s own department that citizenship is an “unreliable indicator” of terrorist threats to the United States. Of 88 individuals implicated in terrorist plots since 2011, more than half were born in the US and the others came from 26 different countries, the study said.
Why then the insistence on imposing such a ban?
Reducing immigration from Muslim-majority countries was a plank of Trump’s campaign, which exaggerated the threat of terrorism to the US homeland. Even if the courts knock down the new ban, suppressing such immigration is a likely outcome.
Muslim students and entrepreneurs will justifiably feel that they are not wanted in Trump’s America and will take their skills elsewhere, to more welcoming places such as Canada.
Other immigrants may also decide that the United States is no longer their desired destination given the raft of xenophobic attacks against brown-skinned foreigners from countries such as India and the accelerated deportation of illegal aliens primarily from Latin America.
After more than 40 days in office, Trump has carried out only one major campaign promise – nominating a new Supreme Court justice. His other pledges – to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, begin massive new infrastructure spending and build a wall on the border with Mexico – are mired in bureaucratic complexity and controversial within his own party.
Banning travelers from six countries that have few defenders in the United States is a way of changing the conversation. It will not, however, convince Trump’s many detractors that he is serving the interests of the United States or making America great.