Here’s what seems true to me as of late Sunday afternoon. This story moves so quickly that I’m not sure that I’ll believe these things by the time I finish writing this post.
1. Even if it makes people mad, there is nothing wrong with a nation’s leaders adjusting its immigration policy, even its refugee policy, to reduce the prospect of harm to that nation, and to serve its own interests.
2. It makes sense to prioritize refugees who are members of vulnerable religious minorities in their war-torn countries. If we can’t accept everybody, then we should favor those whose religion and powerlessness makes them targets for violence, even death.
3. Trump did not say that Christians should receive priority over everybody else. The text of his executive order only said that religious minorities should have priority. Here’s the relevant passage of the EO (which as of Sunday afternoon, had disappeared from the White House website):
Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.
4. Even if Trump did prioritize persecuted Christians over everybody else, is that really such a big deal? For one, the Obama administration under-prioritized Christians (see Dan McLaughlin on that) in its refugee policy. For another, we are the largest Christian nation in the world, in terms of the religion with which most of our people identify. Persecuted Christians should be able to count on the United States as a place of refuge. To be clear, I favor the actual executive order Trump signed, which prioritizes non-specific religious minorities — which could include Muslims, depending on the country and the situation — but it is strange to me that we go to pieces over even the prospect that the president of a nation that is 70 percent Christian would have a refugee policy that prioritizes people who share the majority religion — especially given that Christians from Muslim-majority countries are afraid of anti-Christian violence from other Muslims within refugee camps.
My sense is that when many on the American left looks abroad and sees persecuted Christians, it sees an undifferentiated horde of brown-skinned Falwells who have probably brought the hatred on themselves.
5. Trump did not institute a “Muslim ban,” only a “ban” (if that is the word) on citizens from seven Muslim nations. Everybody ought to read lawyer and #NeverTrump stalwart David French’s close parsing of the EO, including this:
[T]he order imposes a temporary, 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. These are countries either torn apart by jihadist violence or under the control of hostile, jihadist governments. The ban is in place while the Department of Homeland Security determines the “information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.” It could, however, be extended or expanded depending on whether countries are capable of providing the requested information.
The ban, however, contains an important exception: “Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.” In other words, the secretaries can make exceptions — a provision that would, one hopes, fully allow interpreters and other proven allies to enter the U.S. during the 90-day period.
To the extent this ban applies to new immigrant and non-immigrant entry, this temporary halt (with exceptions) is wise. We know that terrorists are trying to infiltrate the ranks of refugees and other visitors. We know that immigrants from Somalia, for example, have launched jihadist attacks here at home and have sought to leave the U.S. to join ISIS. Indeed, given the terrible recent track record of completed and attempted terror attacks by Muslim immigrants, it’s clear that our current approach is inadequate to control the threat. Unless we want to simply accept Muslim immigrant terror as a fact of American life, a short-term ban on entry from problematic countries combined with a systematic review of our security procedures is both reasonable and prudent.
6. Religion is already a factor in determining refugee status, under US law. Again, read David French.
7. Every one of those countries on Trump’s list makes sense, except for Iran, given that no Iranians have been involved in jihad attacks on the US, and that unlike the other nations, Iran is not wracked by war and jihadism. It makes no sense for Trump to have left Saudi Arabia and Egypt off the list, given that citizens of those nations have attacked us. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are considered allies of ours, which is why they’re not on the list. Same with Pakistan, which is a hothouse of Islamic extremism and terror. But their absence does call into question the real rationale of the EO.
8. It was cruel, unjust and politically insane to include current green card holders in this temporary ban, and I’m glad the White House has walked that back.
9. The rollout of this new policy was catastrophic. From the NYT:
White House aides said on Saturday that there had been consultations with State Department and homeland security officials about carrying out the order. “Everyone who needed to know was informed,” one aide said.
But that assertion was denied by multiple officials with knowledge of the interactions, including two officials at the State Department. Leaders of Customs and Border Protection and of Citizenship and Immigration Services — the two agencies most directly affected by the order — were on a telephone briefing on the new policy even as Mr. Trump signed it on Friday, two officials said.
Trump reportedly didn’t even consult White House lawyers before issuing the EO, though the White House disputes that.
Again, it’s catastrophic, but of a piece with the shambolic administrative style of Team Trump. He has been president for just over a week now, and already there’s a strong sense that the uppermost levels of the US government are exerting power, but are not in control, if you see the difference.
UPDATE: Read Benjamin Wittes’s legal and political analysis of the thing. Excerpt:
Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.
10. Trump is not thinking through the politics here. Look:
The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong – they are sadly weak on immigration. The two…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
And look at this:
Worth noting that Trump is attacking Lindsey Graham, a member of Senate Judiciary Committee, days before he makes a SCOTUS nomination
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) January 29, 2017
The Trump administration seems to operate on the same audacious, provocative principles that served it so well during the campaign. You can’t govern that way, as he is about to find out. Running against the GOP establishment might have been smart politics during the campaign, and it’s probably smart to keep doing that to a certain extent. But at some point, Trump is going to need them. If he’s managed to Ted-Cruz himself — that is, to alienate the people who ought to be on his side by grandstanding against them — he’s going to find his presidency failing very quickly. You cannot govern by executive order.
11. There’s no way Trump is going to be able to keep up this pace of disruption, nor will the country. His audacity is admirable at times, but his utter absence of prudence is going to cause a catastrophe for his administration, and perhaps the entire country. And if it doesn’t, we are going to be exhausted and at each other’s throats soon. Is this what we want?
UPDATE: Re: No. 7, when I posted this, I was unaware of three domestic terror attacks by people from countries on Trump’s list (two Somalis, one Iranian). That said, I believe it makes sense to have extra vetting for people from most of those countries (Iran, not so much), given the lawlessness and jihadism running rampant within them. Did you realize that those seven countries were first designated by — wait for it — President Barack Obama? From The Atlantic:
Spicer noted that the seven counties put on the list were chosen by the Obama administration. Indeed, it has its roots in the visa-waiver program. The U.S. allows the citizens of more than 30 countries to visit for short stays without a visa under this program. But that visa waiver does not apply if a citizen of an eligible country has visited—with some exceptions—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011—under measures put in place by the Obama administration. Those individuals must apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate. These seven countries are listed under section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12) of the U.S. code, and it is this code that Trump’s executive order cited while banning citizens of those nations.