Well, the Trump era is upon us. Last week Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending all visits for three months for citizens from six predominantly Arab countries — Syria, Iraq, Sudan*, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — and Iran, and a hold on all refugee intake for four months. Intake of refugees from Syria is on hold indefinitely. When refugee intake does resume, a specific priority will be placed on refugees of minority religions — i.e. Christianity — who are being persecuted. And, mostly ignored, for all entrants to the US, the Visa Interview Waiver program is being suspended. That’s not the Tourist Visa Waiver Program — relax, you can still go to Disneyland — but the Interview Waiver, which allows people to renew business and work visas automatically. The ban includes green card holders from those seven countries, simply because they are not specifically listed in the set of exemptions (chiefly for diplomatic passport holders etc).
The executive order has thrown airports in the US, and around the world, into chaos, with hundreds of people being refused permission to board flights to the US, at least 20 people detained at US airports on arrival, and an ad hoc pro bono legal centre being set up in the McDonald’s at JFK.
On Sunday night, a federal court judge in Brooklyn issued a temporary stay on part of the process: the deportation of people from the seven countries already in the US on visas. The ban applies nationwide and will presumably go all the way to the Supreme Court very quickly. However, the ruling doesn’t apply to barring people from arriving on US soil — the point at which constitutional protection kicks in — and it’s unclear how it applies to people being held at airports, areas of which are transitional territory.
The executive order was widely regarded as having been written by new White House staffer Stephen Miller, former aide to Trump’s nominee for attorney-general Jeff Sessions. Trump certainly didn’t write it; reading out its key provisions on the signing, he stumbled repeatedly. Miller, together with Steve Bannon, former Breitbart head, are now seen as effectively running the White House — a view confirmed by the recent appointment of Bannon to the National Security Council.
The entry ban on the allegedly “maleficent seven” excludes a number of Middle Eastern countries whose entry applicants will be subject to, the White House says, “extreme vetting”. They are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the Cato Institute’s terrorism tracker, not a single US-soil terrorist incident has been committed by citizens of the Maleficent Seven between 1975 and 2015. Citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt killed more than 3000 US citizens in terrorist incidents in that period. The Trump organisation has real estate and other projects underway in all three states, and none in the seven states whose citizens are barred.
Trump’s executive order is a version of what he promised to do throughout his campaign, and it will be greeted positively by his supporters, and quite a few uncommitted people (recall that 48% of Australians were in favour of a ban on Muslim entrants, according to a poll last year). It has already spawned a substantial resistance across the country, and across the world, which is exactly what team Trump wants: liberals with placards at airports yelling for Muslims, Syrians etc to be allowed in. Should there be another domestic incident, such as the San Bernardino attack, team Trump can point to liberals obstructing the process.
So far, no Democrat appears to be willing to go to the dark side and attack Trump from the communalist/nationalist side, endangering the US by excluding the countries from whence the most committed and demented violent Islamists arise. Were someone to do that, and there to be another incident involving nationals from outside the seven excluded nations, there would be the opportunity to land a real blow on Trump in the eyes of his supporters. But we’re not there yet: liberals are still willing to walk into team Trump’s punches instead.
Personally, the blanket ban on entry from countries X, Y, Z is something I find hard to get excited about. There’s no ban on entrants from Indonesia or Malaysia, for example. Far more noxious is the provisions that will kick in when refugee intake does begin and “religious persecution” is prioritised, to up the intake of Christians and disregard Muslims — even though most of the refugees are fleeing Syria and elsewhere on political grounds, and fleeing Bashar al-Assad rather than Islamic State. That move will be a repudiation of the century-long observed principle that a refugee is a refugee, and their entry is dependent upon the danger they’re in, not who they are. And that, I suspect, is the real principle the team behind Trump want to establish.
Interesting times, and the week’s a clear political win for the Donald, as those Americans who still watch news tune in to see liberals and judges fighting with all their might for the rights of Muslims, from elsewhere.
*Sudan was mixed Arab and African. Since the creation of South Sudan, it is predominantly Arab.