Donald Trump is now officially gunning for the Muslims. On Friday, he signed an executive order titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. The order is nothing short of a Muslim ban by another name. It is cruel and callous, espouses positions contrary to the professed values of the United States, and will certainly produce more problems than it purports to solve. In other words, it’s exactly like Donald Trump.
I cannot tell you how livid these scant pages of bureaucratic language make me. In them, Trump is returning the country to the dark days of excluding masses of people on the basis of our national prejudices. It’s as if we’ve reverted to the late 19th century when laws were passed to bar Chinese entry to the United States, but this time the action is by executive fiat and trained on Muslims. Not incidentally, the case law for Chinese Exclusion also established the legal authority for the National Security Entry-Exist Registration System (Nseers), the US government’s previous incarnation of a Muslim registry. We’re never far away from our demons.
Friday’s executive order initiates an immediate 90-day suspension of issuing visas to people from select countries, which currently are Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. The list could be expanded. But do you notice anything peculiar about this particular group of nations? It can’t be that nationals of all those countries have committed acts of terrorism in the United States, because they haven’t. But it is true that six of the seven countries are currently being bombed by the United States, and that most of these countries have also suffered invasions or overthrows by the US.
First, we bomb you. Then we ban you.
What happens after this first 90-day period is anyone’s guess. We do know, however, that Trump has directed the government to stop admitting any refugee into the United States for 120 days, and the total number of refugees resettled in the United States will fall from 110,000 in 2016 to 50,000 in 2017. It’s worse for Syrians. Not a single Syrian refugee will be admitted to the US until Trump himself, in royal fashion, determines that the Refugee Admissions Program is in “alignment with our national interest.”
In other words, the wholesale barring of some of the most marginalized people on the planet will now be seen by the rest of the world as a primary American value. To all my fellow Americans, I ask: are you okay with that?
On its face, Trump’s executive order is based on national origin but dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that the ban is really about religion. One section of the order allows the government to make exceptions to its own refugee injunction “when the person is a religious minority in his country or nationality facing religious persecution.” What used to qualify for refugee status was each individual’s dire humanitarian need to escape deadly oppression of any sort. Now, it’s being non-Muslim among the Muslims.
And if you think this executive order doesn’t apply to you because you’re not Muslim, you’d be mistaken. The US will soon begin collecting biometric data from all travelers on exit (not only on entry, as is currently the case), making airport lines even more interminable. The order also requires in-person interviews for everyone seeking a non-immigrant visa, which will be incredibly time-consuming.
Immigration experts are telling Muslim visa-seekers to expect ideological litmus-test questions when interviewed. Does the Trump administration not realize that people could simply lie – sorry, offer alternative facts – when asked ideological questions? The revisions enacted by this order are mindless and bureaucratic and are certain to raise expenditures enormously.
But the real expense of this order are the human costs. This act of xenophobia masquerading as policy is premised on twin ideas. The first is that terrorism correlates with foreign-born individuals. This is demonstrably not true; just look at Dylann Roof, for example. The second is that Muslims must demonstrate to the government that we’re not terrorists, that we are, in other words, guilty until we can prove our innocence. This not only reverses the fundamentals of American jurisprudence, but is deeply offensive to the core.
The United States already gains significantly from the Muslims in the country. Muslim Americans constitute 1-2% of the population, but about 5% the doctors in the United States are Muslim, as one illustration. Yet when a government enshrines prejudice into law, we must brace for a rise in bigotry on the part of the people as well. Meanwhile, the talented Muslims from around the world will simply go elsewhere, and America will lose again.
Trump’s Executive Order claims that “the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred,” including those who perpetrate “forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own.” Fair enough.
But, what if such a person learned those heinous lessons while he was already in the United States? And what if such a person ran for office? And what if such a person became the president of the United States? How do we protect America then?
Moustafa Bayoumi is an award-winning writer, and associate professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.