During the election campaign, there was much debate about whether Donald Trump intended to implement a total ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States — a step he openly advocated at one point, then appeared to back away from.
Now that Trump’s executive order on immigration has been handed down, there is still debate on whether it’s a Muslim ban. Some Trump defenders argue that news coverage of this measure has been plagued by distortions and double standards, and that it’s not that different from what Barack Obama has done in the past. But regardless of the media’s faults, this administration faces a disaster of its own making.
Is it misleading to call the order — which temporarily bars citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States — a Muslim ban? It’s true that the order does not apply to the vast majority of the world’s Muslims; it’s also true that Christians and other, often persecuted religious minorities in the affected countries, have been among those blocked from entry. But we also have a statement from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani that Trump wanted a Muslim ban and was looking for a way to do it legally.
One conspiratorial claim that has floated around is that Trump’s ban has exempted Muslim countries where he does business. That’s an extremely unlikely rationale. The countries named in the order — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — were the ones subjected to travel restrictions in 2015 because of their instability and elevated terror risk. But if the Trump White House has faced unfair criticism over the list of affected countries, it is largely the administration’s own fault. The announcement of the executive order could have emphasized continuity with Obama-era policies. It did not — most likely because such a statement would have undercut Trump’s claims that the Obama administration allowed potential terrorists to stream unchecked into the United States.
It has also been noted that at one point, the Obama administration suspended all immigration from Iraq because of a specific terror threat. But the Obama administration did not abruptly revoke the entry visas of people already on their way here — including Iraqis who have worked with U.S. troops during the war and including underage children traveling to join a parent. Worse yet, the order was initially applied even to legal permanent residents traveling abroad — a shocking measure that was stayed by the courts and later walked back by the administration.
It’s hard to say what else the White House could have done to make this executive order as unpopular as possible. Except, perhaps, to issue it on Holocaust Remembrance Day, inviting comparisons to Jewish refugees who were killed after being denied entry to the United States in the 1930s.
As a onetime refugee from the Soviet Union, I am well aware that there is no “right” for anyone anywhere in the world to be granted admission to the United States. American hospitality is a privilege. But once this hospitality has been offered after extensive vetting, there is arguably a moral obligation to show humanity and decency toward its recipients.
At a conference yesterday on immigration organized in Washington by Reason magazine (where I am a contributing editor), conservative writer Tamar Jacoby described the executive order as “malevolent.” Yet she also had warm words of praise for Americans who flocked to airports in protest. “Not just hard-core anti-Trump protesters and not just Democrats, but a lot of people said, we don’t do things this way,” she said
So far, the thing the Trump administration is doing best is mobilizing the resistance.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.