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In which John talks about Trump's Executive Order on Immigration in detail, what it means short term for refugees and permanent residents, and what we are still unsure about.

Stories from Refugees:


Full Executive Order text:

The Cato Institute: Terrorism and Immigration: A Risk Analysis:

The Cato Institute: "Little National Security Benefit to Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration"

HR 158 - Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015:

Announcement from DHS re: three further countries added in 2016 to the 2015 Visa Waiver Improvement act:

Reince Priebus, Trump's chief of staff, on Meet the Press 1/29 [Transcript]:

Odds of being struck and killed by lightning:

The statement from McCain and Graham:

Obama slowed but did not stop processing refugee apps from Iraq in 2011:

"On average, officials say it's 18 to 24 months before a refugee is approved for admission to the U.S."

Refugee resettlement process under Obama:

Origins of refugees resettled in fiscal 2016:

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John: Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. So on Friday afternoon U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that reshapes U.S. immigration law and there's been a lot of confusion about it, even within the government, about who's affected by this law and precisely what it means.

So I thought today I'd take a closer look at what the executive order actually says.

So first, the order bans for a period of 90 days all "immigrant and non-immigrant entry into the United States from all citizens of seven nations--Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. These seven nations seem to have been chosen because they were cited in 2015 and 2016 laws signed by President Obama that required residents of those countries to get a Visa to visit the United States. But the executive order states that they can't enter the United States even with a Visa, although there are a few exceptions for diplomats.

So what does this mean? Well, for an Iranian professor at Yale, it means that if she leaves the U.S. she won't be allowed to reenter it, even though she is a well-known opponent of the Iranian regime, and for a doctor who was abroad battling a Polio outbreak, it meant being denied entry into the U.S. despite his Visa to be here.

Now, I know those probably sound like particular examples of hard-luck stories, but because people from those countries already needed Visas with specific reasons to visit the United States, like visiting family, or studying, or working in a specialized field, almost all the stories are hard-luck stories.

The executive order initially also seemed to apply to legal, permanent residents of the United States who aren't citizens, so-called "green card holders," although the language in the order is extremely hard to parse, like even to those within the government. I mean, at one point on Sunday, Trump's Chief of Staff said the order "does not apply to green card holders," and then later, in the very same interview, said, "of course it does apply to green card holders." But after much confusion and emergency lawsuits, it now appears that permanent residents will not be subject to the ban.

It's also unclear from the language in the order whether it applies to dual citizens, like if you're a Canadian citizen who was born in Somalia, as Canada's immigration minister is, there is still some confusion as to whether you can enter the U.S.

Now, critics of this part of the executive order, and I should acknowledge that I am among them, argue that it is really poorly targeted--I mean, no foreign nationals from any of those seven countries has killed even a single American in a terrorist attack. Ever.

In general, terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11 has been exceedingly rare, like in the past decade, American civilians are literally more likely to die by lightning strike than terrorism, and notably, most of the attacks that do happen in the U.S. are carried out by American citizens or permanent residents, and most attacks wouldn't be prevented by the order.

Now, the counterargument is that there may be threats from these seven countries we don't know about, but it's really hard to prove a negative, like it's hard for me to prove that I'm not a terrorist, because, how can you be sure I'm not? Just for the record, in case Big Brother is watching, I'm not. In case Big Brother--Big Brother is definitely watching!

Anyway, all of this is why concerns about the ban don't really fall along traditional left/right lines, like the very conservative Cato Institute, said, for instance, "there is little national security benefit to Trump's executive order on immigration." And many, although by no means all, Republican congress people and senators agree. John McCain and Lindsey Graham for instance, released a statement saying the ban may be remembered as a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.

And then there is the second part of the executive order, which affects admission of refugees into the United States. So, back in 2011, the Obama Administration dramatically slowed the process of refugee applications from Iraq for six months, an off sided precedent for what Trump announced on Friday, but this is very different. Trump is suspending all refugee admission to the United States from all countries for 120 days, and suspending all refugee settlement from Syria indefinitely. This appears to include people who have already been vetted, approved, and received Visas, which is also very different from what happened in 2011. 

Side note, you may have heard that there is no vetting of Syrian refugees coming into the United States, that is simply not true, as discussed in this video, the process includes a huge variety of background checks and interviews and often takes more than two years.

The executive order also prioritizes "refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution," which Trump has said will prioritize Christian refugees when the program restarts, although that's not actually stated in the order and it's not clear it would be legal.

For context, though, last year, the U.S. accepted about 39,000 Muslim refugees, about 37,000 Christian ones, and also 8,500 people of other or no faith.

But just to be absolutely clear, Muslim refugees who have been vetted and approved for admission to the United States cannot currently get in, but neither can Christian or Buddhist refugees for at least 120 days, nor can interpreters who served with the American armed forces in Iraq because no refugees are being allowed into the United States. And this blanket ban also seems, to me, very poorly targeted. 

For one thing, it lumps all refugees together, whether they're from Syria, or South Sudan, or Burma, like most refugees resettled in the United States in 2015 were not Syrian, they were Burmese. But also many Syrian refugees are victims of Isis, who can speak firsthand about its horrors, and that is a moderating force, not a radicalizing one. Imagining Syrians monolithically is as dangerous and simplistic as imagining ending refugee resettlement will solve the U.S.'s security challenges. I share John McCain's feeling that ultimately, this kind of blanket ban will do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.

Now Trump counters that it will make us more safe, and he certainly has access to top-secret information that I don't have access to, but given that these policies wouldn't have prevented a single U.S. terror fatality from the last 40 years, it's hard to see exactly how we're safer.

There are also other issues of legal confusion in the order, for instance, the order states, quote, "The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the constitution." But as many law professors have pointed out, that's kind of ludicrous, I mean, according to that sentence, if you are, for instance, Canadian, and you support a parliamentary system of government over the system outlined in the U.S. Constitution, are you no longer legally allowed to visit Disney World? Because that does now appear to be the law. 

Also, when foreigners attempt to enter the United States, as in most countries, they have the right to seek asylum and be interviewed by an immigration officer to determine if the asylum-seeker has a credible fear of persecution. But the executive order explicitly states that no benefits will be extended to citizens of the affected nations when they attempt to enter the United States, and such an interview would probably constitute a benefit.

So, as of now, it does not appear that people are being allowed to seek asylum, which is in violation of an existing U.S. law called the Immigration and Nationality Act, which an executive order cannot legally override.

In short, no matter how you feel about immigration, this executive order is a hot mess. It is too ambiguous, self-contradictory, and unclear to be effective law.  Now, I want to emphasize that much of this may be moot in 3 or 4 months, as parts of the order expire, but even if that occurs, I worry we've already made dangerous statement that the U.S. won't do its part in the refugee crisis, and that we will discriminate based solely on place of birth. 

I think those are mistakes that imagining a diverse group of over 100 million people to be some terrifying and singular other only encourages others to imagine us that way.

It's hard to imagine people complexly, especially when you're being told to fear them, but I've found it helpful to listen so I've put together a playlist of refugees telling their stories. I'd ask you to listen to them, to believe them, and to see them as people instead of merely as threats.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.