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Trump’s Arbitrary and Cruel Executive Order

Benjamin Wittes is appalled by Trump’s executive order barring entry to nationals from seven countries:

What’s more, the document also takes steps that strike me as utterly orthogonal to any relevant security interest. If the purpose of the order is the one it describes, for example, I can think of no good reason to burden the lives of students individually suspected of nothing who are here lawfully and just happen to be temporarily overseas, or to detain tourists and refugees who were mid-flight when the order came down. I have trouble imagining any reason to raise questions about whether green card holders who have lived here for years can leave the country and then return. Yes, it’s temporary, and that may lessen the costs (or it may not, depending on the outcome of the policy review the order mandates), but temporarily irrational is still irrational.

One of the least convincing defenses of the order is that its effects are temporary. Imposing arbitrary, unnecessary burdens on blameless people for any length of time is wrong. For that matter, discriminating on the basis of nationality is illegal under U.S. law. If we imagine the disruptive effect this would have on our lives if we were in the position of the people affected by the order, I don’t think we would care that it was “only temporary.” Singling out the nationals from several of these countries just adds further injury to the injuries they have already suffered from destructive U.S. policies. Here is the story of a girl fleeing from Yemen, where the U.S. has been helping the Saudi-led coalition in wrecking and starving the country. Despite being the daughter of U.S. citizens, she is now barred from coming to the U.S., and her father isn’t going to take her back to Yemen because of the horrible conditions there:

Ali, 39, is a U.S. citizen. But his daughter had been living with grandparents in Yemen while American authorities processed her visa application. After years of waiting, the U.S. embassy issued the precious piece of paper last Wednesday, and father and daughter were excitedly preparing Friday for the flight that would unite Eman with her mother and two sisters.

They got through security at the airport before an official informed them that people with a Yemeni passport, like Eman, were prohibited from traveling to the U.S. by the executive order President Donald Trump says is needed to keep the country safe from terrorism.

No good purpose is served by stranding that girl in Djibouti, no one is made safer because of it, and it would be a cruel and stupid thing to do regardless.

In other cases, innocent civilians are being penalized for their governments’ misdeeds or for the decision to flee war zones. Barring Syrian nationals ends up punishing civilians that have already suffered from the devastation of their country. In one case, it has prevented a group of Syrian Christians from joining their American family members, who have been working to bring them here legally for more than a decade:

Their relatives, whom Sarmad and Sarah Assali did not want to identify for their protection, began their immigration process in 2003. In late 2015 they were finally approved to enter the United States on an F-4 visa for brothers and sisters of US citizens.

Their case underscores both the absurdity of the order and the extreme length and difficulty of the process that many applicants go through.

What sense does it make to bar Iranians from coming to the U.S., except to burden people who happen to come from a country whose government that ours opposes? Barring Iranians is not just the wrong thing to do, but it also creates enormous burdens for U.S. citizens that still have relatives living in Iran. If that weren’t enough, it also boostshard-liners in Iran, and it deprives Iranian dissidents and activists of the opportunity to come here:

Indeed, the people who are most likely to travel between Iran and the United States — the people most affected by any ban — are Iranians who hold Western values of moderation and tolerance and believe in open political and economic systems.

It is often said that Iranians are one of the most pro-American nations in the world, and this order wrongly treats the Iranian people as a whole as a potential threat. That is a huge propaganda coup for the Iranian regime, and it creates another obstacle to improved relations between the U.S. and Iran in the future. On those grounds alone, it would be folly to do what Trump has done, and there are many other reasons to object to it.

Wittes concludes:

But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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