Trumping Immigration

Dr. Malcolm Cross

President Trump’s newly-implemented immigration policy has flaws, but it also has under-reported features which soften its allegedly harsh edges.  Moreover, it is not inconsistent with the policies of several previous presidents.

The first priority of any government is to keep its citizens safe.  But America is special.  As a nation of immigrants founded on the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, we must be especially careful to make sure all our public policies—especially those concerning immigrants and refugees–are consistent with our democratic and humanitarian ideals. 

The most seemingly draconian features of Trump’s executive order include:

  • A delay of 120 days in admitting new refugees while new vetting procedures are developed; and
  • A 90-day ban on anyone entering the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

So how well does President Trump’s policy measure up?  Not as well as those of us who honor America’s status as a nation of immigrants might like, but better than Trump’s critics might concede.

The 120-day moratorium to improve vetting procedures is inspired by the fear  that some terrorists masquerading as immigrants or refugees  may come to the United States with malevolent purposes, and the hope that better vetting might help us identify and prevent them from coming.  Whether this can actually be accomplished remains to be seen.  Most coming to America do so to seek lives better than they can achieve in their countries of origin.  But the terrorists who struck on September 11, 2001, were also all in America legally.  And in fearing acts of sabotage or terrorism by evildoers masquerading as immigrants, Trump has precedent:  The Roosevelt Administration banned Jewish and other European refugees from entering America prior to and during World War 2, and the reason given by Roosevelt’s point man on the issue, Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long, was fear that Hitler and Mussolini might hide enemy agents in the flood of people who were seeking asylum.

And what about the 90-day ban on arrivals from the “Islamic 7?”  How is this worse than the six-month ban Obama imposed on Syrian refugees in 2011 following the discovery of terrorists in America.  See for the full story, as reported by ABC News—hardly a mouthpiece for Donald Trump.  Trump’s ban is only half as long as Obama’s.

Besides, Trump’s bans have loopholes.  His executive order allows for exceptions to be made for refugees who were employed by the United States military as interpreters or in other capacities, or who might otherwise be in immediate danger if not allowed admission to the United States.  They will be entitled to special consideration and early admission.

Another under-reported feature of Trump’s overall policy is his announced intention to create “safe zones” to harbor refugees awaiting vetting for admission to the United States.  To temporarily ban refugees from the war-torn Middle East will not be to leave them to the tender mercies of ISIS or Assad if they are, in fact, protected by the armed forces of the United States and/or its allies pending vetting. 

One part of his policy seems questionable—the ban on holders of green cards from re-entering the United States if they’re from the Islamic 7.  Green card holders are, by definition, permanent residents of the United States who’ve already been thoroughly vetted.  Whether they can be legally barred from America is an issue to be settled by the courts.  Yet legal or not, a ban on their re-entry seems not only unnecessary, but likely to provoke disillusionment and hostility from those who’ve asked for, and whom the government has already granted, the right to live here.  This part of the policy should be reconsidered.  At the very least, those effected by this policy, should the courts uphold it, should receive accelerated re-vetting and early re-admission.

But Trump’s overall policy is no departure from American practice.  If refugees are efficiently and thoroughly vetted while being kept safe under American protection, we can still achieve greater safety for the United States and all who seek our protection, while remaining true to our best humanitarian ideals.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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