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
- 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.