Opinion

President Trump's immigration order is a disgrace. But not for the reasons you think.

It lays the groundwork for a vicious betrayal of the nation's highest ideals and aspirations

President Trump's executive order banning nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days is a moral travesty, but not for the reasons so many journalists, activists, and protesters appear to believe.

It isn't terrible because Jesus said to love the poor and the needy most of all. Or because a plaque at the Statute of Liberty displays a moving poem about huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Or because it's un-American to make hard decisions about who the country will accept as immigrants or refugees. The U.S. is not — and never has been — a Red Cross encampment on the edge of an active war zone with its doors held open indiscriminately to all comers.

In fact, no country can be described this way. All political communities have borders and distinguish between citizens, resident aliens, and noncitizens; all communities accept some outsiders and reject others. This has been true even for the United States, which through long stretches of its history has admitted large numbers of immigrants. It was certainly true during the just-completed presidency of Barack Obama.

No, this executive order is abhorrent because the United States does not face a serious threat from terrorists originating in the seven singled-out countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Sudan. How do we know that? Because there have thus far been no fatal terrorist attacks committed by people from those countries. None. Not one. Which means that the executive order isn't justified. At all. Not because such an order is inherently unacceptable, but because it isn't necessary under the present circumstances.

If the United States faced a sufficiently elevated threat of terrorist attacks committed by nationals originating from these countries, the executive order might well be justified, and I might well support it. But it doesn't, and I don't.

In certain respects, the order transgresses bedrock American principles that should be considered inviolable, especially the original (now partially walked-back) inclusion in the ban of foreign nationals in possession of green cards. These are lawful permanent residents of the United States, not outsiders we may feel the need to exclude in a time of extreme national threat. They have already endured and come through an arduous, time-consuming vetting process run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (One might even describe it as "extreme vetting.")

So, why insist on originally including lawful permanent residents in the ban (as senior White House staffers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller apparently went out of their way to do)?

Leaving aside demagogic motives (which may well be at play), the inclusion of green card holders in the ban implies that even those who've been through this lengthy and rigorous screening are a threat to the nation. But if that's true, why wouldn't fully naturalized citizens who originated from those suspect countries also be considered a threat?

When that implication is combined with the President Trump's remarks about eventually giving preference to Christian refugees from the Middle East, what we appear to be left with is an order that lays the groundwork for something far more sweeping than a restriction on visas for foreigners from a select group of countries. We have the groundwork for treating American citizens who originated from those countries (or perhaps who just happen to be Muslim) as a uniquely threatening class of citizen — a class subject to special scrutiny, surveillance, and harassment. But of course, when a class of citizen is subject to special scrutiny, surveillance, and harassment, its members are no longer full citizens. They are second-class citizens, with more limited rights than all other, "normal" citizens.

To judge by the rabid reader comments attached to the article on Breitbart announcing the executive order, at least some of Trump's most passionate supporters crave precisely such an arrangement for Muslims in the United States.

Would it be un-American to relegate Muslim Americans to the category of second-class citizens? Given the long history of the U.S. treating certain classes of people as less than full citizens (African-Americans, Native Americans, Japanese Americans), it would be difficult to call such a move un-American, at least in purely empirical terms. But morally, it's a no-brainer: Treating Muslim Americans as second-class citizens would indisputably be a vicious betrayal of the nation's highest ideals and aspirations — a betrayal that the threat posed by radical Islam does not even remotely justify.

That's why the Trump administration's executive order is an outrage, and it cannot be allowed to stand.

More From...

Picture of Damon LinkerDamon Linker
Read All
Stuck in the pandemic
A COVID hole.
Opinion

Stuck in the pandemic

Democrats scare off the median voter
A median voter.
Talking Points

Democrats scare off the median voter

Is 'cancel culture' really so bad?
A man being burned at the stake.
Talking Points

Is 'cancel culture' really so bad?

The 1887 law that could end American democracy
The Qanon Shaman.
Talking Points

The 1887 law that could end American democracy

Recommended

Nancy Pelosi may be facing her 'biggest challenge' as speaker
Nancy Pelosi.
the pressure's on

Nancy Pelosi may be facing her 'biggest challenge' as speaker

Why Israel should reject U.S. military aid
Iron Dome.
Samuel Goldman

Why Israel should reject U.S. military aid

Biden will not shield Trump's records from Jan. 6 probe
Joe Biden.
privilege revoked

Biden will not shield Trump's records from Jan. 6 probe

Biden's comments avoid larger immigration issue, critics say
Joe Biden.
at the border

Biden's comments avoid larger immigration issue, critics say

Most Popular

Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman almost make it through interview without awkwardness
Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman
Last Night on Late Night

Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman almost make it through interview without awkwardness

Democrats are governing like Republicans
A donkey.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

Democrats are governing like Republicans

After Biden huddles, Democrats moderately optimistic about passing progressive agenda
Joe Biden
Dems in Disarray

After Biden huddles, Democrats moderately optimistic about passing progressive agenda