Targeting Nationalities, Not Individuals, Is Why Trump’s Travel Ban Fails

3664 - Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum (MEF)
A blanket ban on emigres from seven countries won’t do much to prevent radical Islamists from entering the United States.

There is a general consensus in the U.S. that we need to protect ourselves and not allow people who wish us harm to pass through our borders.

The two executive orders from President Trump on Jan. 27 were both potentially game-changing policy instruments. The order introducing the details of “extreme vetting” is a valuable first step to begin the implementation of necessary changes to U.S. immigration policy and apply them to those who clearly should not be allowed into our nation.

The travel moratorium, while claiming similar intent, was poorly rolled out and badly formed. Given the administration’s failure to work and consult with relevant federal departments, legal experts, and security officials, it’s not surprising that this order will likely not be implemented as planned.

While many focused on its supposed religious targeting, the larger issue with the moratorium is its focus on nationalities rather than concentrating on individuals radicalized by certain ideologies anathema to U.S. interests.

A proper system should focus on identifying radicalized individuals.

It is easy to implement a blanket ban on emigres from specific countries, but it will be harder to put in place the structural changes needed to guard against extremists posing as harmless refugees. No improvements can truly occur until we recognize our immigration system must be reformed from top to bottom.

A proper system will allow U.S. immigration officials to distinguish, among those seeking entry to our country, potential friends sharing our values from those who are anti-American or will shrug off American values after their arrival. By focusing exclusively on nationalities as opposed to individuals, we leave ourselves open to the risk of failing to notice a person who has been radicalized.

The issue of “extreme vetting” came up frequently during Mr. Trump’s campaign as an exclusive concern on keeping out Islamists and those who would value violent ideologies over American law. The term “Islamists,” as opposed to “moderate Muslims,” refers to the approximately 10 percent to 15 percent of Muslims who seek to apply archaic Islamic law in its entirety, including restricting women’s rights, subjugating non-Muslims, and idolizing violent jihad.

Some in the West see Islam as synonymous with extremism, turmoil, and violence. However, it is only a minority of Muslims who are the problem; labelling entire Muslim communities is wrong and dangerous. Working with anti-Islamist Muslims is the key to ending this radical surge, a fact that has been recognized by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

The complex challenge of identifying Islamists in the immigration process points to the need for a thorough and exhaustive investigation on the individual level. Identifying Islamists is no easy matter. There is nothing to distinguish them when it comes to clothing, careers, or outward devoutness. Islamists often dissimulate and pretend to be moderates, and some change their views over time.

The executive order calling for new “Uniform Screening Standards,” if implemented properly, will prevent individuals from entering the U.S. “on a fraudulent basis with the intent to cause harm, or who are at risk of causing harm subsequent to their admission.” It contains two main components, in-depth research and intensive interviews.

No amount of time, money, or resources is too great to ensure the safety of U.S. citizens.

These new standards have plenty of critics, namely those who claim that the entire procedure is less reliable, too arduous, or even unlawful. The argument that a no-Muslim policy is more reliable is senseless and wrong — an exclusive religious litmus test shouldn’t exist. It is one question amongst many that should be applied to potential emigres.

It is true that the proposed procedures will be expensive and slow and will place a very heavy burden on U.S. immigration officials. However, this is the reality of what it takes for the U.S. to maintain an immigration policy that both welcomes those who wish to assimilate and denies entry to those who wish to cause harm and chaos.

Any individual who seeks residency in the U.S. must, by law, be approved and strive to abide by the principles of our Constitution. By embracing extreme vetting, we can move past what Lee Smith calls “judicial arrogance” and “political hysteria” and finally place total trust in our immigration procedures. No amount of time, money, or resources is too great to ensure our government’s ability to keep its citizens safe.

Originally published on Middle East Forum: https://www.meforum.org/6545/target-individuals-not-nationality

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