On Friday afternoon — International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in fact — Donald Trump signed an executive order essentially banning Muslims from entering the U.S. Because words no longer have meaning, he named it “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” and here’s what you need to know about it.
It affects a lot of people.
In the name of national security, the order blocks entry into the U.S. for citizens of seven countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. But what, you might ask, about
– People with dual citizenship? Yes, them, too. A new one-drop citizenship rule means that someone holding, say, Canadian and Iranian passports are still Iranian enough to warrant keeping them out of the country.
– Refugees? They’ve been vetted and given visas and everything, right? Them, too. The new official U.S. policy is “fuck a visa,” because apparently the 18 months to two years of intense scrutiny it takes to get one isn’t enough of a vetting for our new administration.
– People on student, travel, or work visas? What part of “fuck a visa” did you not understand?
– Lawful permanent residents? With green cards? They can come in, right? They live here. Hahaha! Them, too! Except not really, except kind of. The Department of Homeland Security originally interpreted the order to exclude people with green cards, but then the White House told them to stop doing that, but then the White House told them they could start doing it again but had the authority to hassle them as much as they wanted to on the way in.
– Asylum-seekers? Who even knows? The shoddily written order makes it hard to know if green-card holders are allowed in, much less circumstances as complex as asylum.
The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, from any country, and when the program starts up, it will prioritize Christians (ostensibly, “minority religions,” but Trump has made it clear that he means Christians). And the order also bans Syrians, for any reason, under any circumstances, period.
The order, which took effect immediately, affected people who were waiting at the airport to board, people in the air at the time, and people who were on the ground in the U.S. waiting to go through Customs, as well as people who had plans to travel in the future and visas to make it possible. This includes refugees, people coming to visit family and friends in the U.S., and people from the U.S. returning from travels outside of the U.S. Some have been blocked from boarding, some have been detained and released (it’s possible that some are still being detained), and some have been packed back onto a plane and hustled back to their country of origin, despite any reason to have left in the first place — and we don’t know who or how many, because DHS either doesn’t know or isn’t telling.
Of course they claim it’s a national security thing.
The entire first section of the order talks about terrorist attacks, starting with 9/11, connecting them with visa-holding foreign nationals and emphasizing the need to make sure that anyone allowed into the U.S. of A. isn’t a terrorist and doesn’t want to hurt Americans. It goes on to talk about people who don’t support the Constitution, support violence against women, or would “oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation,” and I am just dying that they managed to put those words to paper without someone’s brain squeezing out of their ear from the cognitive dissonance. But whatever.
The thing is, though, that none of the perpetrators of terrorist violence in the U.S. have come from those countries. (Most of them, in fact, were white people born in the U.S., but don’t expect this administration to ever acknowledge that.) They came from countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Pakistan — countries with which the U.S. has diplomatic relationships (and Trump has financial ties, except for Pakistan, which is a nuclear power that even he probably has the sense not to piss off. Or Bannon does, I guess). Trump is hanging this on terrorist threat because he knows people are sensitive to that, but the connection is tenuous at best. He’s taking them for fools, and it’s working.
Let’s cut the crap — this is a ban on Muslims.
The government insists that it’s not a ban on Muslims, it’s not on religious grounds, it’s just keeping us safe from people in these ostensibly dangerous countries that just happen to be majority Muslim. Except for people suffering “religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality,” who will now be prioritized above all other refugees coming into the U.S. So anyone who’s taken third-grade math can smell the bullshit there.
(Muslim majority + other minority religions) – other minority religions = Muslims
If you don’t grasp this fact, then either a) you only learned some Quiverfull homeschool fundamentalist Bible math where every question equals Jesus, or b) you’re full of shit, and you know you are. This is a ban on Muslims, and it doesn’t matter how many twists and turns you take to disguise that fact.
How else might we know that it’s a ban on Muslims? Ask Rudy Giuliani, who was the first person Trump asked when he wanted to come up with a ban on Muslims. He was perfectly happy to tell Fox News how it came about.
When he first announced it, he said “Muslim ban.” He called me up, he said, “Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.” I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, Pete King, a whole group of other very expert lawyers on this, and what we did was we focused on, insteda of religion, danger. The areas of the world that create danger for us, which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible, and that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.
Trump really needs to get onto his people about saying true things out loud.
It restricts refugees in general and bans refugees from Syria entirely.
Trump’s order more than halves the number of refugees the U.S. will accept annually from 110,000 to just 50,000. To put that in context, just five countries in the Middle East have accepted more than 4.8 million Syrian refugees, and Germany itself has pledged more than 40,000 spaces, but the entire U.S. is willing to go less than 10,000 spaces above that — but none to Syrians, as “the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
Which makes sense, since Syria is currently one of the places in the entire world in greatest need of refugee resettlement, except no, sorry, that’s not sense, it actually only makes sense in that this is exactly the kind of bullshit we’ve been able to expect from this government. Because this government is looking at people in desperate need of help and only seeing terrorists. A five-year-old boy separated from his mother at Customs, an elderly woman in a wheelchair, a family of six with a handful of thoroughly vetted visas — Trump’s government only sees machine gun-wielding Bond-movie terrorists and is willing to send them home to die. Since September 11, 2001, 784,000 refugees have settled in the U.S., and three — three out of 784,000 in over 15 years — have been caught planning any terroristic activities whatsoever, but that five-year-old is a tiny terrorist in the making and needs to go home and become the 500,001st person to die in the Syrian civil war.
“At a press conference on June 5, 1940, FDR himself warned that ‘among the refugees there are some spies, as has been found in other countries,’ explaining that ‘especially Jewish refugees’ could be coerced to report to German agents under the threat that if they did not do so, ‘we are frightfully sorry, but your old father and mother will be taken out and shot,'” Friedman wrote in his book Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II.
“The State Department cooperated in preparing a Saturday Evening Post article warning the public that ‘disguised as refugees, Nazi agents have penetrated all over the world, as spies, fifth columnists, propagandists, or secret commercial agents,'” he wrote.
“I think the fear was genuine, but misplaced,” Friedman said. “That is, none of the Jewish refugees who arrived in the United States has ever been found to have done anything in the interest of the Nazis. They fled them. They didn’t want to help them.”
This “national security” order was drafted without the input of national security officials.
You’d think that if the act really were all about national security and not flat-out bigotry, Trump would have wanted some of the top national security experts to weigh in and make sure all of the important angles are covered. So naturally, he did not do that thing.
Trump’s order wasn’t reviewed by DHS, the Justice Department, the State Department, or the Department of Defense. They also, according to sources, didn’t seek guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel (an office that guides the executive branch in matters of law) or put it through review by the National Security Council. (The White House insists that they did, but they also named the order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” so you’re free to decide for yourself who to believe.)
DHS finally got a look at the order just a few hours before it was signed. Their two recommendations — that lawful permanent residents be exempt, and that the government delay acting on the order until they had time to make plans and avoid precisely the massive international clusterfuck that’s happening right now — were overruled by the White House.
All of this secrecy and sudden action might have been an attempt to cover the fact that…
The order itself is the legal equivalent of 70-year-old kitchen wiring.
At Lawfare (a site that just happens to focus on law and national security), Benjamin Wittes pulls the order apart piece by piece and reveals that… well, he uses the word “incompetence” nine times. Reading his assessment brought me back to trying to rewire our 70-year-old house and discovering that it’s basically a paper-wrapped, tar-coated best attempt at a house fire.
The language is Frankensteined from multiple previous acts, with none of the terms clarified and half of them out of date. It leaves terms like “entry” and “other benefits” hanging out in the breeze, makes no mention of lawful permanent residents or asylum seekers — it is, Witte says, “a giant birthday present to the ACLU and other immigration litigators.” So it’s no great surprise that…
Saturday night, a judge blocked part of Trump’s order.
The ruling came courtesy of Federal District Court Judge Ann Donnelly, who is going to get disappeared to a CIA black site after this and I’m not even kidding. The ACLU brought suit on behalf of two Iraqi refugees being detained at JFK, as well of the rest of the affected travelers as a class, for a temporary stay on the ban. Since the District Attorney couldn’t so much as tell how many people were currently being held, much less why they had suddenly gone from safe to security risks or how they could possibly not be risking “irreparable damage” if they went home, Donnelly granted the stay.
During the hearing itself, an ACLU lawyer got a call that a Syrian refugee was about to be put back on a plane and returned to Syria. The stay came with about 20 minutes to spare for that refugee, but the ACLU says they continued receiving reports of individuals under the order being harassed, intimidating, and even placed on planes, and that one U.S. attorney “refused to confirm that Respondents would respect the Order nationwide.”
It should be noted that the stay doesn’t cover others who weren’t or won’t be allowed on planes to come to the U.S. It only affects travelers who were in the air or on the ground in the U.S. when the order was signed.
Green card holders are currently exempt, for the time being. Further updates as events warrant.
It’s still up in the air because the poorly constructed order didn’t make it clear. So here’s what’s up with the green card thing: After DHS finally had time to look at the order (and, unfortunately, after it had already been signed, not that they would have had the authority to do anything about it), they came to the legal interpretation that green card holders from those seven countries — lawful permanent residents, pretty much U.S. citizens who aren’t actually U.S. citizens — were exempt from the ban. That night, the White House overruled that interpretation, saying that green card holders were not exempt, although DHS could consider them on a case-by-case basis.
Then on Sunday, Reince Priebus finally came out and said officially that green card holders are exempt, but that border agents would have “discretionary authority” to question people coming from the seven countries on the list. Said Priebus in a complete failure of irony and lack of self-awareness, “President Trump is not willing to get this wrong, which is why he wants to move forward quickly and protect Americans.”
So is everything good now?
Of course everything isn’t fucking good. The rest of the ban remains in place. And while a DHS spokesperson said that as of Sunday night, every detained traveler had either been released into the U.S. or put on a plane home, immigration lawyers have said that they believe dozens are still being held. Again, since no one in an official capacity will provide any names or numbers, there’s no way of telling. Trump mouthpiece Sean Spicer said “109 people were affected and slowed down in their travel” (and Trump repeated the claim on Twitter, natch), but one DHS official said there had been 735 encounters across the country, along with 348 who weren’t allowed to board at foreign airports.
Over the weekend, crowds came out to JFK, LAX, ATL, SeaTac, and airports around the country to protest the ban. In some cities, airport officials diverted traffic and made alternate arrangements to accommodate protesters. In Chicago and New York, immigration attorneys have commandeered patches of floor to set up ad-hoc legal clinics for families of detained travelers. But, of course, not all travelers get the chance to be helped.
Moustafa texts his wife, telling her there may be a problem when you land. The President of the United States has signed an executive order that could bar her from leaving the airport. She has a J2 visa, the kind given to spouses of immigrants. And she’s lived in the US for almost a year. But her passport is Syrian. And it’s that passport with which she’d traveled to visit family in Qatar three weeks earlier.
When she lands at Dulles, Moustafa’s wife is met by Customs and Border Protection agents. She sends her husband frantic text messages, tells him she’s being asked to sign papers she doesn’t understand.
Moustafa feels helpless. For the next few hours, dejected and despairing, he recounts his wife’s story to the lawyers who’ve arrived at Dulles, offering to help.
There’s nothing they can do. His wife had been put back on a plane to Doha.
So no, everything isn’t good now.
Bonus fuckery: Steve Bannon is in, Joint Chiefs are out of the National Security Council.
Not out out — just as good as out. Out of the room, certainly. On Saturday, Trump reorganized the National Security Council, adding Steve Bannon to the Principals Committee, removing the CIA director, and demoting the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to invite-only status.
That means that officials with actual foreign, domestic, and military intelligence experience have been removed from any position of influence, and they’ve been replaced with a white supremacist puppetmaster who has expressed a “Leninist” desire to “bring everything crashing down.”
tl;dr smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Oh, and one more thing: No, it’s not like what Obama did in 2011.
In May of 2011, two Iraqi men in Bowling Green, Kentucky, were arrested by the FBI for actions committed in Iraq and for trying to assist terrorist groups overseas. Both men entered the U.S. as refugees, having lied on their paperwork. And since it turned out there was evidence of these terrorist ties — one guy was a bomb maker whose fingerprints had been found on an IED discovered in 2005 — the government was, like, “Hey, maybe we should go back and take another look at some of these people we’ve resettled.”
So for six months, the U.S. paused processing refugee requests from Iraq while they re-checked 58,000 Iraqis then settled in the U.S., and while they established a more thorough background checks system for Iraqi refugees. The U.S. didn’t stop admitting refugees who’d already been processed — they just had delays in processing new ones until they established the most effective way of doing that. (In fact, the Obama administration did take a measure of shit for those delays, and the State Department did what they could to tune the application process and expedite applications where necessary.)
So no, not the same.
Obama: Was responding to an actual, specific event
Trump: Wasn’t responding to any specific event, unless you count the event wherein a racist dickbag got elected to a position where he could ban Muslims from his country
Obama: Paused refugee processing; Iraqi refugees were still allowed into the U.S. every month in 2011
Trump: Barred entry by any non-U.S. citizen from the countries in question — immigrants, non-immigrants, refugees, everyone, period
Obama: Took action only within the country from which the two faux-refugee terrorists originated
Trump: Took action against seven countries, none of which have had any connection to deadly terrorist acts on U.S. soil (unlike Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and other countries not covered by the ban)
Obama: Took a vetting process that was already pretty stringent and made it even more so
Trump: Took what is now one of the most stringent refugee vetting processes in the world and promised to make it “extreme,” although without specifying what that would actually entail
Obama: Implemented in an orderly, organized manner, with all involved parties kept in the loop and decisions made with the input of all relevant agencies
Trump: Drafted in Sharpie on a cocktail napkin without the input of anyone but Steve Bannon; signed into action without warning and to the complete confusion of everyone who would be expected to implement it
Trump — who’s hanging on Obama’s coattails quite a bit for someone who campaigned on calling him a shitty president — also referred to a 2015 act revising the U.S. visa waiver program, saying that that’s where he got the list of seven countries. But again, not the same.
Obama: While the U.S. waived the need for visas for citizens of many countries, anyone who’d visited those seven specific countries after a specific date had to have a visa — they could still travel to the U.S., as long as they got a visa first (or were journalists, aid workers, U.N. officials, or others who got a special waiver from Congress)
Trump: Did I stutter? Barred entry by any non-U.S. citizen from the countries in question, period
tl;dr Donald Trump wishes he were Barack Obama, and frankly, so do a lot of us right now.
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