Travel ban prompts chaos, protests
President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban on visitors and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries triggered a firestorm this week, with mass protests at several major airports, widespread confusion among border control officials, and a growing spate of lawsuits challenging the order’s legality. Signed late in the day last Friday, the travel ban blocks immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days, and suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days. With travelers given no prior warning about the new policy, and many immigration officials unsure about how to execute it, more than 700 visa holders were prevented from boarding U.S.-bound flights; hundreds more landed at American airports, only to be placed on return flights or handcuffed, detained, and questioned for hours. Those caught up included entire refugee families from Syria, Iraqi interpreters who helped the U.S. during the Iraq War, and an Iraqi general currently leading the fight against ISIS. Permanent U.S. residents, known as green card holders, were initially among those banned but are now being issued waivers.
The ban, which immediately applies to more than 90,000 people in the affected countries who’ve been issued U.S. visas, as well as to thousands of refugees waiting for admission, sparked spontaneous mass protests at major airports in cities including New York, Washington, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Lawyers and Democratic lawmakers also gathered at airports to help the detained travelers; in one of several lawsuits challenging the ban, a federal judge in New York issued a temporary injunction blocking the deportation of those detained. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the ban; she was immediately sacked by President Trump, who said she had “betrayed” his administration.
Republican leaders backed the executive order, although several lawmakers expressed misgivings. GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham argued it would alienate Muslims here and abroad and boost recruitment for extremist groups, calling it a “self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” President Trump compared his policy to one enacted in 2011, when the visa process for Iraqis was slowed for evaluation, and noted that the seven nations were designated “countries of concern” by the Obama administration. “This is not a Muslim ban,” he said. “This is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
What the editorials said
“The U.S. has long been the strongest voice for freedom of conscience and human dignity,” said the Financial Times. With this cruel and heartless move, President Trump “has departed violently from that tradition.” His ban provides nothing but an illusion of security. From 9/11 to this day, no immigrant or child of immigrants from Syria, Iraq, or any of the seven nations Trump designated has committed an act of terrorism in the U.S., yet nations whose citizens have been involved in terrorism—Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and others—are exempt. Why? Refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern nations are already “the most vetted group of travelers to the U.S.,” said BloombergView.com The process takes at least 18 months, and involves background checks by several government agencies.
Actually, Trump’s temporary ban is “mostly right on the substance,” said National Review.com. With Islamic terrorists “posing as refugees to obtain admission into Europe,” it makes sense for the U.S. to “evaluate and strengthen” our own vetting process. But the implementation of the ban was a travesty. Its architects—White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller—“overrode cautions” from lawyers about the details of the order; federal agencies and border control agents weren’t given sufficient guidance, leading to ugly detentions, outrage, and “spectacular protests.”
What the columnists said
“Progressives will look for any excuse to call President Trump a bigot,” said Adriana Cohen in the Boston Herald. This is not a “Muslim ban.” The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims aren’t affected. Trump “isn’t anti-Muslim. He’s anti–radical Islam.” The president is simply carrying out the promises that helped him win the election, said Chris Cillizza in WashingtonPost.com. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed 49 percent of Americans supported the ban and 41 percent opposed it, and you can be sure that Trump supporters in particular are “overjoyed” that “he’s doing what he said he would.”
Nonetheless, the ban is “bad public policy” and “probably unconstitutional,” said William Galston in The Wall Street Journal. The Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 forbid discrimination on the basis of religion or national origin. Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani openly boasted that Trump had tasked him with finding a legal workaround for a “Muslim ban.” The fact that the order targets Muslims is further revealed by the administration’s admission that it plans to give priority to admitting refugees who are Christian and Yazidi.
Trump supporters should be worried about the “stunningly inept” way this executive order was implemented, said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com. Our new “ businessman-president” was supposed to be more competent than career politicians. Yet this travel ban was rushed into effect without proper coordination and evaluation by government agencies, resulting in “utter chaos,” heartbreaking individual stories about refugees and visa holders, and a big dent in Trump’s credibility. If doubts about Trump’s competence grow, his already embattled presidency will be in trouble.
President Donald Trump and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Cover photos from AP, Newscom (2)