With no shortage of chaos in Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president, the stories that stand out do so for a reason. Despite an investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia, multiple high-ranking public officials being effectively fired and foreign policy faux-pas involving the president’s own son, few of Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff moves have incited as much unrest as the “Muslim ban.”
The ban, which has been shut down by U.S. judges twice now since Trump initially used an executive order to enact it, sits alongside Trump’s proposal to raise a substantial wall along the U.S. and Mexican border to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants and drug traffic as a cornerstone of an immigration policy markedly different from any the U.S. has put forth in over fifty years.
With Trump’s campaign victory and continued support coming largely from his base of conservative non-immigrant families, it’s easy to assume the only people whose lives are touched by this new policy for immigrants are “foreigners,” but is that really true?
Understanding the Ban
To answer that question, you first have to be familiar with how the ban works. In plain English, it blocks most nationals from Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Syria and Yemen, from entering the U.S. for 90 days. Iraq was on the original ban list, but Trump removed the country on his second pass at the order. Currently, the order is not in effect due to opposition from two standing judges.
There are exceptions to the ban for U.S. legal permanent residents and persons with passports from affected countries who are not permanent residents of those countries.
To reinstate the ban, Trump’s administration would need to appeal the second decision that blocked it, which came from a federal judge in Hawaii. It is also possible that the president could attempt to pass the ban through a different means than an executive order.
Fine Print for Travelers
At face value, you can understand how one might evaluate the ban as affecting roughly 90,000 people who travel between the U.S. and those countries listed. There is, however, verbiage in the executive action Trump has tried to pass that goes beyond just tighter control on immigrant travel.
Core portions of the executive action put forth on March 6th and struck down by the judge in Hawaii have to do with the collection of personal data. That data currently is not made available to the U.S. when people from the countries still on Trump’s list travel to the United States.
Media coverage has focused largely on the un-American nature of banning people based on their ethnicity and the order’s apparent targeting of Muslim refugees, but there is in fact potential for the data collection portions of the order to expand in a way that would touch the lives of any American citizen who travels internationally.
Collecting Data at the Border
Already, international travelers entering the U.S. during Trump’s first hundred days have been subjected to much more frequent searching than in the past. Many have even had Customs and Border Protection agents request their cell phones and passwords. The administration holds this practice akin to searching someone’s bag at the airport. However, many argue that this is a violation of constitutional rights, and frustrated citizens have begun challenging these actions. There has been such a high demand for legal advice in this area recently that law firms have taken to providing immediate counsel at airports.
Currently, each of the six countries left on Trump’s list refuses to hand over background information about persons traveling into the United States from their country. Many have speculated the ban is in fact intended to coerce these nations into providing the data, which would presumably better allow Trump’s administration to vet incoming foreign nationals and exclude those flagged as having the potential to commit criminal acts.
This type of data collection already happens in many countries:
- An agreement between the United States, UK and Ireland put in place in 2013 facilitates the sharing of data between these three nations any time citizens of one travel to the other.
- Documentation required to enter one’s own state is minimal. However, if you choose to harbor a foreign national, the state could very possibly perform more in-depth research on that person’s background.
The difference between this action and the UK/Ireland agreement is, of course, the presumption terrorist activities are much higher in the six nations cited in the “ban,” which suggests CPB and other authorities would be much more aggressive in their use of legal authority.
The Travel Ban and Healthcare
Clearly, 90,000 is a large number, but it’s easy to lose track of exactly who these people are in the more than 321 million who make up the United States. Not surprisingly there are some important groups that Trump supporters in flyover states could find themselves missing.
Take for example the fact that foreign-trained doctors make up nearly 2.7 percent of the medical community in West Virginia. Trump’s ban would almost certainly deny these persons entry. Those still in training could not travel home to complete their training during the ban.
The same type of dynamic exists in nearly every pro-Trump county. The number of foreigners working as doctors comprises one percent or more of the medical community. The medical community could compensate for the loss of these people, but a noticeable shortage of doctors would occur if a long-term ban were to go into action tomorrow.
Not only that, but the people who would feel it most would be those Trump supporters living in areas with almost no immigrant population. In some cases, they would be forced to travel farther than usual to receive specialist care from a foreign-trained doctor.
A Global Perspective
Many supporters of the travel ban cite the fact that this wouldn’t be the first time a nation has put forth laws governing who is admitted to a nation based on their origins.
Many Middle Eastern countries have similar, even more drastic laws in place, for example, banning entry for persons from Israel:
- Travel for Pakistanis who carry passports is greatly limited in the Middle East
- Even nations as large as India practice elaborate vetting before allowing travelers from certain parts of the globe
The United States, however, has long been more welcoming to the global community. Sadly, residents of many Middle Eastern nations feel immigrating to the U.S. offers their best chance for an improved quality of life. A recent rise in international terrorism, which is often associated with the same countries people wish to immigrate from, complicates the situation.
No Longer an “Open Door” Nation
The U.S. has always put itself forward as open to all who wish to immigrate, largely because of the nation’s backstory, which relied on immigrants from Italy, Germany, Ireland, China and many more foreign nations for the U.S. to become the world power it is today.
Whether or not you agree with U.S. foreign policy notwithstanding, immigration is at the core of America’s story, and at the core of U.S. values for many people.
Values, however, are different from laws. The rhetoric that Trump’s new action puts forth makes the U.S. a more defensive nation than ever before and speaks to a growing lack of trust in the global community. It’s not surprising such a lack of faith comes from Trump’s populist base, who generally reside in largely white communities with little to no influence from foreigners.
The idea behind keeping foreigners out, then, is that it will insulate America from the acts of groups like ISIL, the Taliban and other extremist groups based in the Middle East. But can we say with certainty that only new entrants into the states will mastermind terrorist acts?
Fueling the Fire
The Tsarnaev brothers, who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing attack in 2013, immigrated to the United States in 2001. They are part of the 3.3 million-strong Muslim community in the United States, which, like any group, contains people of differing opinions and backgrounds.
Many of the Muslims who immigrated to the U.S. did so to escape oppression in their home countries and have found a home in the states where they can practice their religion free of persecution, again, a concept that dates back to the very founding of the United States. Some, like the Tsarnaev brothers, have been swayed by the call of radical Islam.
The concepts and ideologies that drive these niche groups can’t be contained by borders, but it is possible that by making laws that try to enclose them, we lend credence to those who recruit the oppressed and disenfranchised to join these causes. That is a process that can take place anywhere on the globe and already takes place inside U.S. borders.
Wouldn’t we be wiser to empower the much larger constituents of these groups — who have demonstrated they want only the opportunity to live peacefully in the U.S. — to represent their home nations well? Certainly, the best defense against extremism is creating an environment where people don’t feel it is necessary to resort to such means to get attention.
One Extremist Begets Another
Driving a wedge between cultural groups, rather than reinforcing the need to separate extremism from normal human behavior, won’t only result in a rise in Muslim extremism. Radical right-wing Christian groups are already well-rooted in the fabric of America, and it’s rhetoric like that used to justify Trump’s travel ban that inspires them to rise up and become more active.
The pattern of conflict between these religious groups dates back thousands of years and has endured long periods of peace only to rear its ugly head again when we act in a way that empowers extremist groups.
Already we are seeing neo-fascist groups emerge in major European nations. In Slovakia, neo-fascist party members have gained a foothold in parliament, and even places as prominent as France are seeing a shift in the values promoted by prominent candidates like Marine Le Pen.
In the U.S., several demonstrations at historically liberal UC Berkeley campus have taken an increasingly negative tone as students and left-wing supporters have forcibly opposed conservative speakers Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. While the prestigious college has served as a rock for the progressive movement since the historical protests of the 1960s, some students worry things are becoming hostile at a level that limits the free speech of their fellow citizens.
An Uncomfortable Reality
Even if it wasn’t drafted with implications about racial and cultural relations in mind, Trump’s travel ban has served as the perfect vehicle to bring these issues even more front-and-center than they were at the end of a progressive Obama administration.
Depending on your views about what transpired during Obama’s 8 years in office, the United States either:
- Made great strides as a global role model for progressivism, or
- Hyperextended itself trying to appease the interests of niche groups.
Not all of these groups are defined racially or by religious ties, but the nature of the progressive movement is advancement for one minority is generally considered to advance the cause of all.
The nation seemed to acknowledge during Trump’s campaign against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that populist views stood largely in opposition with progressive advances that took place during Obama’s tenure, however confidence was high that the liberal candidate would win out, and conservative groups acting out during election season would be silenced after Hillary took office.
Americans may not have seen a Trump victory coming, but look at the state of global politics, where the conversation has become increasingly tinged by racial and religious conflicts, and it begins to fit the trend. The same problems that have divided Europe in recent years are alive and well in the U.S.
The Politics of Now
What we’re left with, then, is an administration operating with the logic of a frat boy who’s just realized his one-night stand was, in fact, a life-changing event.
Trump made a lot of promises during his campaign. That’s something all politicians do. Politicians tend to do it with some concept of how they’ll wriggle out of those promises. Trump didn’t even think that would be necessary, and when the other side of the political aisle outright hates you, the only choice is to take shelter in your base.
It’s no surprise Trump has done exactly that. The travel ban is a high-profile appeal to sheltered white Christians who were told in simple terms “we will ban the entry of all Muslims into America” during Trump’s campaign.
Sound extreme? That’s because it is. It is a promise that doesn’t estrange the merely sheltered but also invites the stalwart extremist to get in on the political action. That’s how you earn the vote of every white populist in the flyover states, plus a few who were scared to come out in Ohio.
Delivering on campaign promises is the one thing these people want to see, and where he’s been unable to do that, Trump has at least created enough commotion that he can point to it and say “look how hard I tried.” Hence, the travel ban but the ban is only an executive order — it isn’t magic.
No one can magically erase the thousands of years of religious conflict that has taken place between Trump’s Christian base and the Muslims they’d like to ban. What will be remembered even if the ban never really goes into effect is the tremendous insult America delivered to its own core values in proposing such an order.
Even without much planning, Trump’s administration wove the narrative of government surveillance into a piece of litigation sold as having no effect on domestic citizens.
On top of that, Trump’s approach to reducing terrorist acts seems to parallel the same logic that’s not good enough for his supporters when it comes to issues like gun control. That is, we believe allowing no new immigrants into America will protect us from future terrorist acts, but to suggest that one can reduce gun violence by stopping the sale of assault rifles is held up as idiotic.
Immigration is not the same thing as gun control. People are complex. Guns are machines.
What has been sold as an action that will keep America safe really only makes life more difficult for largely altruistic Americans of foreign descent and will only be felt by the people who supported it when they lose the services those people provide and witness the backlash from extremist groups this law encourages, both Muslim and Christian.