Another week, another stupid comment from Donald Trump. This time, it was him reviving his asinine proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. This is not only in violation of the principles and ideas that define American society, it is also impossible to enforce and incredibly immoral. Moreover, it is a position that is not supported by the majority of Americans. In short, it’s just plain stupid.
Why is a “Muslim ban” a bad idea? Well for one, it is incredibly discriminatory towards a large group of people. I’m all for blocking entry of people deemed a terror threat, but that decision should be based on their actions and statements, not what deity they pray to or holy book they read. Despite what extremists like Hannity would have you believe, the U.S. screens all refugees extensively before allowing them to enter the United States. Don’t take my word for it, though. Here is how the conservative Heritage Foundation describes the process:
So what does the refugee vetting process look like?
First, most applicants apply for refuge through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. The office then forwards some applications to the U.S. State Department, which prepares these applications for adjudication by Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Once an applicant is referred to the State Department, biometric and biographic checks are done against various U.S. security databases at multiple points throughout the process.
Multiple agencies systems and databases are incorporated in this process, including:
The State Department
Consular Lookout and Support System
Consular Consolidated Database
Department of Homeland Security
TECS (a DHS security system)
DHS Automated Biometric Identification System
National Counterterrorism Center/FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center
Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment
Terrorist Screening Database
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Extracts of the National Crime Information Center’s Wanted Persons File, Immigration Violator File, Foreign Fugitive File, Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File (and the Interstate Identification Index)
Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System / Next Generation Identification
Drug Enforcement Administration
Department of Defense
Automated Biometric Identification System
In addition, the refugee process requires a security advisory opinion to be completed by the FBI and the intelligence community on many refugee applicants who are considered higher risk. Similarly, interagency checks are constantly being done in connection with a wide range of U.S. agencies.
In additional to these background checks, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conducts a refugee interview. These interviews cover everything from refugee and immigration matters to security and country specific questions.
For example, Syrian refugee officers must undergo a one week training course on Syria-specific issues, including classified information. Additional scrutiny is already being applied to Syrians through the enhanced review for Syrian applicants process that puts additional security and intelligence resources at the disposal of adjudicators.
Only at this point can an application be approved. For those that are approved, health screenings and orientations begin. The State Department and Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services work with voluntary resettlement agencies to arrange for resettlement services and assistance.
After an average of 12-18 months, this process ends with entry into the U.S. According to the Department of Homeland Security, of the approximately 23,000 Syrian referrals made by the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees to the U.S., only about 2,000 have been accepted. The U.S. refugee system can be, should be, and is being picky at who we allow to enter the U.S. as a refugee.
The U.S. has made constant improvements to the program, learning from mistakes such as when in 2009, two Iraqi terrorists were caught in the U.S. after slipping through the vetting process. It is worth noting that these are the only two individuals who slipped through the screening process.
As you can see, it’s really not that easy to get into the U.S. as a refugee. One can quibble with the exact procedures, but one can certainly not argue that we are simply “letting everyone in.” Indeed, there are much easier ways to infiltrate the West than going through a grueling refugee application process or riding some rickety boat across the Mediterranean in hopes of seeking asylum in Europe.
You might argue that I’m entirely correct. It is hard to enter the U.S. as a refugee, but because there are other avenues of entry like visa applications and passports we must impose a complete moratorium on Muslims entering the United States. OK. I will grant you that there are other, easier ways of entering the United States, but this raises another question: How do we know if someone is a Muslim? Should we ask them? Well, that probably wouldn’t work because the good, honest Muslims who tell the truth would be blocked while the extremists would just lie to get into the country. Should we ban all Arabs? That could also be complicated because not all Arabs are Muslim. There are Arab Jews and Coptic Christians, and I’m sure Donald Trump wouldn’t want to ban innocent Christians fleeing ISIS persecution or discrimination under Islamic regimes from moving to the U.S. Moreover, what would we do about Muslims from outside the Middle East? The Mayor of London is a Muslim. Would we ban the mayor of our greatest ally’s capital from travelling to the U.S. just on account of his religion?! That seems absurd.
I also want to know how serious Trump is about stopping threatening groups from entering the U.S. besides just Muslims. White supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups have killed far more American’s than Islamic terrorists. Would Trump be willing to halt the immigration of all light-skinned people just in case a few were white supremacists? Would he ban everyone from Austria and Germany, too? After all, Nazism originated there, and Neo-Nazi has the word Nazi in it. We can never be too careful when it comes to our national security, now can we?
Meanwhile, as Trump engages in this fear mongering over absurdly minuscule threats, tens of thousands of innocent and peaceful Muslims are being massacred in Syria and Iraq. If you thought the Orlando shooting was bad, just look at an average day in Aleppo or Damascus or Mosul. It makes the likes of San Bernadino and Orlando seem positively idyllic. When Trump is referring to banning Muslims, it’s these people he is talking about. It’s the people who suffer large scale terrorism on a daily basis, struggling to keep themselves and their families safe. To prevent these people from seeking relative security within the most prosperous and powerful country on Earth because one of them *might* commit an act of terrorism is disgusting, cold-hearted, and cowardly. These people suffer far more than any of us can even imagine, and it is absolutely reprehensible that the GOP nominee is proposing to prevent them from seeking safety and security. Just read the harrowing story of Sami Kazikhani to understand how truly immoral Trump’s proposed policy is.
Look, terrorism is scary. It is designed to provoke and cause disproportional and unnecessarily extreme reactions. By letting Trump say the things he says and propose the plans he does, we fall into the trap that the terrorists are setting. Banning Muslims isn’t even a remotely feasible proposition, and even if we could do it, we absolutely shouldn’t. Just because we are fighting ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Al-Shabab does not mean that we should discriminate against 1.6 billion people, the vast majority of whom are kind, decent people.