Why Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration ban is ineffectual

Sunday 05/02/2017

To quote from The Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Or perhaps William Butler Yeats: “All changed, changed utterly.” Recent weeks in American politics has been like a tornado destroying everything in its path.

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on January 27th that placed a 90-day ban on immi­gration and on refugees from seven predominately Muslim countries and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees ignited a firestorm across the United States and the world.

Thousands of Americans flooded airports across America to protest the ban and cheer those who were eventually allowed to enter the country. World leaders, even some senior members in Trump’s own Republican Party, condemned the move, saying it would lead to increased, not less, terrorism.

Yet the Trump administration, despite a bit of dancing around, stood firm and refused to back down. There are two reasons for this, one legal and one political.

A 1952 immigration law gives the president the right to bar any class of people considered “detrimen­tal to the interests of the United States”. Politically, Trump knows his base loves it. While his overall popularity declined in a recent Gallup poll, it rose several points among Republicans. A recent Pew poll indicated that 48% of Ameri­cans questioned said they wanted tougher immigration standards and 42% said they did not.

So, with the wind in his sails, why might Trump’s executive or­der be in trouble in the long run?

One word — sloppiness.

Several media outlets reported that the executive order was not vetted by White House counsel, the Department of Justice (whose lawyers usually go over every executive order), the Department of Homeland Security or the State Department and that lawyers for the National Security Council were prevented from looking at it.

It also turns out that officials at Customs and Border Protec­tion and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services were not informed of the action until Trump was signing it.

This process led to mass confu­sion at airports across the United States, particularly after a series of judges issued injunctions against the executive order. Were green card holders, who had already been vetted by the government, going to be allowed in? In some places yes; in some places no. At Washington Dulles International Airport, Customs and Immigra­tion agents deliberately ignored court orders, raising questions of contempt of court and a constitu­tional crisis.

As one top legal expert from the Brookings Institution, a Washing­ton think-tank, put it, the presi­dent has created a “litigation-rich environment”. The question is: Did Trump use his power to hide his true intent — to specifically ban Muslims? Trump said the execu­tive order is not meant to be a ban against Muslims, that he was only expanding on an initiative started by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

This has been shown to be an “alternative fact” and dismissed by legal and security experts. Also, there have been no deadly terrorist attacks in the United States com­mitted by a refugee from any of the seven countries in the past 40 years.

Trump’s case was undermined by his own supporters, includ­ing former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who said that the move was designed to ban Muslims. That is the point that will be argued in court as US law says it is illegal to ban people on religious grounds.

The person to look at here is not Trump but his top political strate­gist, Steve Bannon. Bannon is the former editor of the right-wing extremist Breitbart news site. Ban­non wrote Trump’s inauguration speech and was said to be one of the main authors of all of Trump’s executive orders in his first week. It was no doubt Bannon, who hates government and the Washington power structure, who pushed Trump to scrap the normal vetting process.

In the end, however, it could be Bannon’s contempt for all things Washington that undermines Trump’s executive order.

Do not think this is the end, regardless of what happens. Trump has shown his hand and Muslims around the world are in his sights. The question is whether the American people and the US Constitution can stop his and his minions’ long-term plans.