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rant

In fairness (recognizing the irony of that term in connection with the Trump administration)...

There's been a lot of discussion of the list of seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen) covered by President Trump's order on immigration and refugees of last Friday, noting in particular that, although citing the 9/11 attacks as partial justification, it doesn't include the home countries of any of the 9/11 hijackers, and that it doesn't include any terrorism-wracked countries with known Trump Organization investments such as Turkey, not to mention non-Moslem-majority countries like France, Belgium, and the U.K. whose Moslem citizens have committed major terrorist acts.

The text of the order doesn't actually name any specific country except Syria, but rather refers to "countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12)". This is a section of law (existing at least since 2015) dealing with the "Visa Waiver Program" under which short-term (under 90 days) visitors from certain countries can enter the U.S. without meeting the usual visa requirements. In particular, section 12 says the visa waiver is not available to people who are "nationals" of, or have visited since March 1, 2011, a certain list of countries. The only countries named in the law are Iraq and Syria, but the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security are empowered to add other countries to the list on grounds that

  • "the government of [the country] has repeatedly provided support of acts of international terrorism;"

  • "the presence of an alien in the country or area increases the likelihood that the alien is a credible threat to the national security of the United States;"

  • "a foreign terrorist organization has a significant presence in the country or area;"

  • "the country or area is a safe haven for terrorists."


I can only assume that, as of Friday, the list of countries thus designated really was the seven we've been hearing about.

Anyway, my point is that Donald Trump didn't pick the list of countries; it already existed, having been created by Congress in 2015 or earlier, and fleshed out by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, probably under the Obama administration (since Trump's Secretary of State hasn't been confirmed yet, and his Secretary of Homeland Security has been in office only a week).

I'm inclined to suspect that he decided to use this existing list in part because it already existed, and people from these countries were already subject to heightened scrutiny for short-term visits to the United States; he didn't have to do the work of deciding which countries to put on the list.

The fact that he chose an existing list rather than just naming a couple of countries he'd seen on the TV news may actually be a good sign that he is, ever so slightly, tempering his shoot-from-the-hip instincts in favor of decisions made by people who know what they're talking about.

That said, one has to wonder why the existing list doesn't include Turkey, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Egypt, Lebanon, or Pakistan: the criteria of section 12 seem to apply to those countries. That part isn't Trump's fault.

And one has to wonder about several things that are Trump's fault:

  • whether this action is an attempt to solve a real problem, i.e. whether there's reason to believe the existing refugee vetting procedure is inadequate;

  • whether criteria originally developed to apply to short-term visitors should also apply to refugees, applicants for long-term residency, and even people who already have long-term residency and have been living here for years;

  • whether criteria originally used to revoke a special privilege, so people meeting the criteria had to go through the usual visa process, should also be used as a ban, so those people can't go through the usual visa process;

  • whether suspending all refugee applications from all countries in the world is compatible with American ideals;

  • whether there's any evidence that refugees from Syria pose a special risk warranting indefinite suspension;

  • whether restrictions on Moslem-majority countries that explicitly favor non-Moslems from those countries will serve as a propaganda coup and recruiting tool for ISIS far outweighing any direct security improvement.

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Comments

Given what has been happening in Europe with refugees (who somehow never seem to go home, and thus become long-term residents), I'd say that there's reason to be concerned about refugees and applicants for long-term residency.

Those who already have long-term residency are a thorny problem that I'm not at the moment willing to analyze.
Yes, there is certainly reason to be concerned about terrorists hiding in the refugee stream, or any other stream of people trying to come to the U.S. (I don't remember: have any of the recent terrorist acts in Europe been committed by recent refugees, or were they all by citizens and long-term residents of those European countries? I'm excluding the 2015 New Year's Eve rapefest, which doesn't seem to have been politically motivated or organized.) The question is whether a policy originally designed to apply to short-term visitors is appropriate to apply to refugees and would-be long-term residents.

And, of course, refugees are already subject to what most people would call "extreme vetting" -- lots of paperwork, identity and background checks, lots of interviews over the course of a year and a half, involving the FBI, the CIA, etc. After passing all the checks, refugees still face a numeric quota much lower than in Canada or European countries. If you were a terrorist wanting to get into the U.S. for an attack, you'd probably pick an easier and more reliable route than the refugee process.
Except that there seems to be a very high percentage of young (under 30) unmarried adult males in the refugee stream going to Europe - I haven't seen corresponding figures for the US - and you also need to realize that that there is reason to believe that any tactic - including lies and dissembling - is considered valid in jihad, which makes a higher level of vetting - whatever you want to call it - pretty much essential for all individuals coming from those countries - quite possibly including documented American citizens returning home.

Radicalization is a real phenomenon, though it's impossible at present to know just how widespread it is. I'm not exactly happy about _anything_ - ostensibly protective or not - that will raise my chances of becoming a victim.
I've read that the great majority of refugee applicants to the U.S. are women and children, but I don't have pointers to the actual figures, either for the U.S. or for Europe.

Yes, there are definitely radicalized people (both abroad and at home) who would like to commit terrorist acts to hurt the U.S. and its people. Strict vetting is certainly appropriate for people coming into the U.S. from countries that have produced a substantial number of terrorists. But (a) it's not clear why the seven countries on the list, which have produced NO successful terrorist attacks in the U.S., are considered higher-risk than a bunch of other countries not on the list, and (b) it's not clear that the existing vetting procedures are in any way inadequate.