On January 27th, President Donald Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, into the United States. This order initially included permanent U.S. citizens who were attempting to return home, refugees who had already been promised sanctuary, and even Iraqi interpreters who had risked their lives to aid the U.S. military- though the Trump administration would later amend the ban to exclude visa holders, green card holders, and army interpreters.
Backlash was swift and decisive: just one day after the order was given, Federal Judge Ann Donnelly issued an emergency stay preventing the deportation of individuals who had recently entered the country with valid visas or as legitimate refugees. Mere minutes later, Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema issued her own order protecting green-card holders from similar treatment. By February 1st, four separate states had filed suit against Trump over his “allegedly” unconstitutional executive order, and on February 3rd, a Washington State District Court issued a temporary restraining order against Trump’s ban in its entirety, allowing travel from the affected countries to resume. On February 9th this restraining order was upheld on appeal, and Donald Trump promptly tweeted: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” In case it was unclear, sic.
Thus far, the courts have been hostile to Trump’s executive order, but it is technically possible that the Supreme Court might be willing to hear the case and then overturn the original temporary stay. In the very likely event that this does not happen, citizens of countries on Trump’s list will be able to legally enter the U.S. until the District Court that issued the stay reaches a permanent decision.
Despite fierce opposition to the ban amongst lawyers and judges, Trump’s executive action has been relatively popular amongst the American public at large. A RealClearPolitics aggregate poll incorporating data from January 27th to February 13th shows that 46.3% of Americans approve of the order, while 49.5% disapprove.
This mediocre level of popularity in no way mitigates the awfulness of Trump’s proposed policy. Even ignoring the questions of constitutionality that have so far hampered the ban and are likely to eventually sink it, Trump’s travel ban is incredibly reckless and has the potential to cause serious damage to U.S. foreign policy interests. The United States currently enjoys a relationship with the global Muslim community that might be reasonably characterized as “strained at best”- indirectly demonizing that community will only worsen the relationship, and could easily lead to an uptick in radicalization across the globe. Even more importantly, by attempting to ban individuals to whom the United States government had promised admission- including individuals who received this promise only in wake of military service that they undertook at severe personal risk- Donald Trump dealt a massive blow to American credibility. When the United States tells an Iraqi citizen that if they are willing work with U.S. soldiers they will be rewarded with a visa, that promise needs to mean something. It is hard enough for American soldiers to build trust with Middle Easterners without evidence of our government’s willingness to renege on its word- and the capacity to build trust is crucial to US foreign policy in the region.
If President Trump is serious about reducing the national security threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism, he ought to focus on reducing the popularity of violent strains of Islam, rather than trying to keep all the terrorists out. This might not be as easy as simply instituting a blanket ban on immigration from certain countries, or as viscerally satisfying to Trump’s base- but it nevertheless remains the Constitutional, pragmatic and moral choice.