President Donald Trump’s executive order to immediately deny entry to the United States to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries has led to impassioned demonstrations at airports, international denunciations and even criticism from some fellow Republicans. It has also suffered two early defeats in the courts, after judges in New York and Virginia late Saturday blocked the deportations of those denied entry.
“Trump’s order reverberated across the world Saturday, making it increasingly clear that the measure he had promised during his presidential campaign was casting a wider net than even his opponents had feared.
“Confusion and concern among immigrant advocates mounted throughout the day as travelers from the Middle East were detained at U.S. airports or sent home. A lawsuit filed on behalf of two Iraqi men challenged Trump’s executive action, which was signed Friday and initially cast as applying to refugees and migrants.
“But as the day progressed, administration officials confirmed that the sweeping order also targeted U.S. legal residents from the named countries – green-card holders – who were abroad when it was signed. Also subject to being barred entry into the United States are dual nationals, or people born in one of the seven countries who hold passports even from U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom.
“The virtually unprecedented measures triggered harsh reactions from not only Democrats and others who typically advocate for immigrants but also key sectors of the U.S. business community. Leading technology companies recalled scores of overseas employees and sharply criticized the president. Legal experts forecast a wave of litigation over the order, calling it unconstitutional. Lawyers and advocates for immigrants are advising them to seek asylum in Canada.”
With any other president, it would seem that the law of unintended consequences has begun to apply here and that perhaps we might see a softening of the policy. The targeting of green-card holders — those previously legally allowed to be in the United States who suddenly find themselves in limbo — in particular seems to have caught everyone off-guard.
But Trump isn’t your average president. And his rhetoric on this issue has made clear he’s likely to view the backlash and anecdotes of stranded travelers as merely the cost of doing business — a perhaps unfortunate side-effect of keeping the country safe. We shouldn’t expect any kind of hasty retreat, barring more successful legal challenges.
A case in point is the response in the wee hours of Sunday morning from the Department of Homeland Security. In a statement, it basically suggested the whole thing has been overblown, declaring that “less than one percent” of international travelers were “inconvenienced” by the executive order. That choice of words says plenty.
“President Trump’s executive orders remain in place – prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety,” the statement said.
Trump himself assured reporters Saturday afternoon, “It’s working out very nicely,” adding: “We were totally prepared.”
Those two reactions say a lot about how firm he will be on this.
Trump’s proposal to deny entry to the United States — initially to cover all Muslims, and then those from terrorism-prone countries (which are, notably, predominantly Muslim) – shifted over the course of his campaign and transition effort, so we weren’t sure exactly what we would be getting when he finally put it into practice as president.
But the constant all along was that it would be somewhat, well, extreme. He even called for “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees. Trump didn’t apologize for this; he cited the need to keep the country safe from terrorism, at whatever cost.
Opponents point to the lack of instances of terrorism committed by refugees or foreign nationals from the countries Trump isolated. They also note countries like Saudi Arabia aren’t included, despite the fact that the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
But there’s no real way to measure the terrorism that these measures will prevent — if any. And given Trump’s belief in sensationalized numbers when it comes to violence and crime in this country, it seems likely he’ll believe he’s thwarting plenty of very bad things.
The specter of terrorist attacks, violence and “carnage” has always loomed large in Trump’s rhetoric. And in our president, we have someone who isn’t afraid of a black-and-white, us-vs.-them policy toward both Islam and fighting terrorism. Trump ran an unapologetically nationalistic, “America First” campaign — rhetoric that he turned up to 11 in his inaugural address.
Against that backdrop, the idea that foreigners and/or Muslims are being unfairly targeted by this Trump policy isn’t one that’s likely to weigh heavily on him. And as with most of the controversies he’s spawned, the backlash will probably only make him dig in.