Monday, February 20, 2017

Immigration Chaos

Within the onslaught of presidential Executive Orders (EO) recently issued, the one captivating the most attention established new restrictions on immigration into America. This immigration order generated much action, within great confusion, further subdividing us into opposing camps. It has not been America’s best foot forward.

What the EO Says: The EO contains many provisions and directives. In short, it affirms “the policy of the United States to protect its citizens from foreign nationals … [committing] terrorist attacks in the United States,” and “to prevent the admission of foreign nationals” entering the United States for “malevolent purposes.” Since “the visa-issuance process plays a crucial role … in stopping [terrorists] from entering the United States,” a 30-day review will be done to reevaluate the information needed to determine that an individual is not a threat. To enable this review, entry into the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries is suspended for 90 days. If the applicant’s home government is able to provide the new vetting information required, approved applicants can resume entry. If not, applicants will continue to be excluded.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is suspended world-wide for 120 days while additional security procedures are developed. Refugees already in the process can still be admitted. After 120 days, refugee admissions from countries deemed to have adequate security procedures can be resumed. Applicants claiming religious-based persecution will have priority, provided that their religion is a minority in that county. Further, any refugee applications from Syria, as well as admission of more than 50,000 refugees from any circumstance or country, are suspended indefinitely until “I have determined that … such admissions [are consistent with] the national interest.”  State and local jurisdictions are newly given “a role in the process of determining the placement or settlement” of refugees.

The Bungled Rollout: On their face, many of these EO provisions might be very reasonable for enhancing our national security. Yet they provoked an immediate outcry of protest from much of the public as a result of the bungled rollout of the EO itself. The EO called for immediate action. Yet there was no coordination among government agencies in drafting the EO, no advance communication among the agencies charged with its implementation, no detailed plan for how to do it. Hence confusion at the ports-of-entry and in the overseas embassies was rampant. Green Card holders were not exempted by the EO, yet administration officials claimed they were. Valid visa holders, including people previously resident in the U.S., were turned back without warning. Families were split up; children detained. Iraqi citizens working side-by-side with Americans at great personal risk were deemed unwelcome in an America that has depended upon their service. Trump said no notice was given so “bad guys” would not sneak in during the transition, ignoring that current visa processes have so far excluded terrorists very well. However noble the intention, the administration came off looking unprepared if not incompetent, unfeeling regarding innocent people and families caught up in the politics, and shallow in its planning and thinking. Whatever positive publicity Trump sought regarding “extreme vetting of terrorists” disappeared under the extreme chaos that could have been avoided.

The Factual Arguments: People come to the United States within several categories: diplomats; political and war refugees seeking asylum; immigrants seeking a better life by becoming a U.S. citizen; guest workers (e.g. green cards) with skills needed by employers; and “visitors” (tourists; students, special events / ceremonies). Trump’s order affected all of these without distinctions except for diplomats. TIME magazine reported that 3+million refugees have entered the U.S. “since instituting rigorous screening in 1980; not one has killed anyone in a terrorist attack.” Most of the governments of the seven countries banned are, in fact, in a state of chaos, making the assessment of local credentials difficult. On that basis, a suspension of approvals could be a reasonable action if handled in a sensible manner. But there have been no terrorist attacks committed by immigrants from these banned countries; previous terrorists have all come from countries NOT included in the ban (e.g. Saudi Arabia; Pakistan). The current vetting program for immigrants requires a two-year wait before admittance – hardly a smart vehicle of choice for a terrorist to sneak into the country. The ban was said to be needed because “the threat is increasing” and new “extreme vetting procedures” are needed. But no basis for this increased threat, and no examples of what “extreme vetting” means, was offered to justify a need for new procedures nor the rush to implementation. Given Trump’s penchant for exaggeration and his increasing loss of personal credibility, accepting these actions on trust is not warranted.

The Constitutional and Legal Issues: A Facebook friend rightly pointed out that no foreign citizen has an inherent legal right to enter the United States. All do so only by the permission of the U.S. government. These permissions follow established rules and processes, and in 1993 the Supreme Court granted some legal protections to immigrants once they are resident. Given the haphazard manner in which this ban was formulated, announced and implemented, it was destined to wind up in court –where it sits now working its way through the hierarchal judicial system. What has gotten lost in the judicial posturing is NOT whether the President has the power to restrict immigration. What has been upheld three times is simply an injunction to put the order on hold while the legal rights of the President and his EO are clarified. All of the bluster and arguing about whether the President has the immigration power  are misplaced at the moment; that decision is still to come, and will likely find the President does.

However, what may trip up Trump’s case is 1) if the ban is deemed unjustified and over-reactive given no demonstrated new threat; 2) that the EO and its implementation was so ill-done, erratic and ambiguous that it in itself is unconstitutional; 3) that it is a discriminatory ban based upon religious bias against Islam/Muslims or preferential treatment to non-Muslims; 4) that it treated all classes of visa holders the same even though their circumstances are different and each class has different rules that apply. Undermining Trump’s court review are numerous statements during the campaign for a comprehensive ban of all Muslims. There is every suspicion that what is being called “temporary” is in fact an intentional step towards “permanent” and all-inclusive. Trump’s case is not helped by his (once-again) full-frontal assault on the integrity and independence of the Judiciary branch. “Equal branches of government” does not mean that the President’s power is unassailable and is “not to be questioned” (as one of his ignorant junior aides stated). It means each branch has its own sphere of Constitutionally divided and assigned powers, and within those defined powers each is supreme over the other. The Judiciary’s right to review Congress and Executive actions has been well established and ingrained in the American fabric for over 200 years (see Richard Nixon and Watergate tapes.)

The Fallout: It is shameful that this immigration ban was done as it was, further fueling the great neighbor-versus-neighbor divide that exists among us today. I have been shown nothing that shows our current vetting to be inadequate, nor more of a reason to fear for my safety from foreign-born arrivals than existed three months ago. There was no need to rush to judgment or to not do it right. “Doing it right” could have meant building the case for specific countries where vetting has  recently been made more difficult; writing a well-researched Executive Order with a reasonable scope considering all affected parties; properly coordinating this action among all the affected agencies; training that would yield consistent explanations and procedures. We need to communicate our intention in positive terms instead of the usual “anti-/agin-er” terminology we are so continually inundated  with – stressing getting the right people IN rather than banning everyone to keep the bad guys out. Words and tone still matter.

The fierce kickback against Trump is not a legal one. It is a reaction to his track record of stoking the fires of hate and prejudice to benefit his election. Hatred and prejudice against “foreigners” have plagued this country since its founding. Only the targeted class of people has changed – Africans, Irish, Chinese, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Japanese, now Arabs/Middle Easterners, and Jews, Catholics and now Muslims – even though we are all sons and daughters of immigrants. We have a long litany of mistreatment to each other. That collective weight competes with our tradition of welcoming the stranger – which we all once were – into our land. Welcoming the sufferer looking for a chance at the still-existing American Dream. Protect us against the threat of harm, yes. But do so in a reasonable way that protects us from our unreasonable fears. The Statue of Liberty, with her welcoming message to those who come here, is the most visible and definitive symbol of the American promise. She is our better self. She is who we truly are. Block the gate to the one with a gun in his hand. But make sure we shake the empty hand of the one who comes in peace. That is the message we must be sure does not get lost.

©   2017   Randy Bell             www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain,