SFS On Topic: Executive Orders on Immigration


In his first two weeks in office, President Donald Trump has signed multiple executive orders, three of which address a range of immigration issues: refugees and visa holders, border security and law enforcement, and sanctuary cities.

The first executive order promises to withhold federal funding from cities self-identifying as “sanctuary cities” offering safe harbor from deportation to undocumented immigrants. The second executive order fulfills one of the rallying points of Trump’s campaign, calling for the Department of Homeland Security to begin steps to build a physical wall along the southern border of the United States, including finding a source of funding. The final, and perhaps most controversial, of the immigration-centered executive orders first places a travel ban on entry into the United States for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen) for 90 days. The second part of the order bars any refugees from entering the United States for 120 days and indefinitely postpones entry for any Syrian refugees.

A range of federal and state government officials, academics, and other experts have questioned the constitutionality of the executive orders, and the travel ban in particular has caused confusion at U.S. airports and protests across the country. SFS faculty and alumni weigh in on the issues presented by the these executive orders.

Travel Ban: Effects on Terrorism and the Middle East

Much of the opposition emerging against the travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries and refugees centers on the argument that the ban will have the unintended effect of actually increasing extremist Islamic terrorism. Dr. Daniel Byman, Professor in the Security Studies Program and the Research Director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, argues:

Trump is also sending a message to Muslims at home and around the world—America does not like you. This vitriol makes it easier for the Islamic State and other groups to recruit. For decades jihadists have argued that the United States is engaged in a war against Islam, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried hard to make it clear that U.S. wrath was focused on a small group of terrorists, not Muslims in general. Trump’s actions and rhetoric add credibility to the jihadists’ narrative of civilizational war.

He also argues that the travel ban will increase the number of localized “Lone Wolves” who believe the U.S. is at war with Islam while alienating ordinary Muslims at home and abroad. And all this, he adds, would be for nothing – “Syrian refugees are linked to zero terrorist attacks in the United States.” Read the full op-ed on the Brookings Institution’s Lawfare blog here.

Dr. John Esposito, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and of Islamic Studies, raises a similar question: “The question becomes, why identify these countries and not identify countries where in fact citizens have been involved in acts of terrorism within the United States,” Esposito said, considering most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Muslim-majority countries not included in the travel ban. Read the full article from Voice of America here.

Travel Ban: History of Anti-Muslim Discrimination

Professor Shireen T. Hunter explains about how decades of demonization set the stage for the ban on Muslims. “For at least three decades, Islam and Muslims have been designated by people who should know better as enemies of the Western world and of Western values.” The negative portrayal of Islam, she explains, began even before the events of September 11, 2001, with political leaders, academics, and even Hollywood movies adding fuel to the fire:

“With all this popular and even academic demonization of Muslims (and their forebears, as in Persia) it should be no surprise that President Trump wants to protect America from these evil peoples,” Hunter writes. Read the full op-ed on LobeLog here.

Travel Ban: Domestic Implications

In an op-ed for the Boston Globe, former Secretary of State and SFS professor Madeleine Albright wrote that the travel ban was formed by poor decision-making, and the implications for this country and its immigration system are “grave.”

“By slamming the door shut on those fleeing violence and persecution, including people who took great risks by working on behalf of the US military, the order represents a stark departure from core American values. Despite what the administration says, the order effectively creates a religious preference in our immigration system and is deeply biased against Muslims — undermining the principles of religious freedom upon which our country was founded. As a refugee who rose to serve in one of the highest offices in the land, I consider it a repudiation of everything that America represents,” said Albright. Read the full op-ed here.

In an interview on CNN’s ‘New Day’ with Chris Cuomo, Albright called the ban “flat anti-American.” Additionally, in the face of a proposed Muslim registry, Albright tweeted, “I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity.” Read the full article here.

Other domestic implications include the effects restricting immigration might have on industries that depend on overseas talent, including tech and healthcare. In the healthcare IT sector in particular, “It is certain that the present ban, if temporary as stated, will disrupt some healthcare providers and impose hardship on some migrants. It is not clear, yet, that it will have strong longer-term impacts if it is temporary,” according to B. Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies for the Institute for the Study of International Migration. Read the full article here.

Travel Ban: Effects on Refugees and International Refugee Resettlement System

Dr. Elizabeth Ferris, Research Professor and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explains that the international refugee resettlement system has been in place in iterations since 1951, intended to protect both the people fleeing persecution and conflict and international peace and security. Trump’s executive order and travel ban deeply threatens an “already fragile international system,” said Ferris.

“America has always played a king-sized role in the international refugee system. It has resettled millions of refugees from regions in turmoil, not only providing a benefit to individual refugees but also expressing a concrete commitment to responsibility-sharing. American leadership has led other governments to make commitments to refugees…If U.S. refugee policy excludes those fleeing violence in Muslim majority countries, why shouldn’t other countries impose similar exclusions? If future U.S. refugee policy is based on a narrow implementation of ‘America First,’ why should Lebanon or Tanzania or a hundred other countries continue to receive refugees?” said Ferris. Read the full op-ed on the Brooking Order from Chaos blog here.

In an op-ed in Fortune, Ferris writes that Trump is wrong to prioritize Christian refugees, explaining how other religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria and Rohingyas from Burma, have also faced religious persecution. “[T]o prioritize the persecution of one religious group over others is not the way to go,” Ferris said. “It gives the impression that Americans care more about Christian lives than about the lives of those of other religions.”

Closing the door to refugees in order to improve the vetting process, as the executive order proposes, will cause more problems than it solves, argues MSFS alumna Natasha Hall (MSFS’11) in the Washington Post. Hall, who worked for four years as an immigration officer with the Department of Homeland Security, has vetted many refugees coming from the Middle East. She argues that “whoever wrote [the executive order calling to improve the refugee vetting program] is evidently not aware that these screenings, procedures and questions already exist…[and] is wholly unfamiliar with the U.S. immigration system, U.S. laws, international law and the security threats facing our nation.” Hall said:

During nearly four years as an immigration officer with Homeland Security, I conducted in-person interviews with hundreds of refugees in 10 countries from 20 different nationalities. I have had countless refugees break down crying in my interview room because of the length and severity of the vetting process. The process for any citizen of a Middle Eastern or majority Muslim country to get into the United States is tortuous and has become more so every year for the past 15 years, with additional screenings, interviews and other background checks. 

Building a Wall: The Future of NAFTA and Neighborly Relations

Throughout his campaign, Trump proposed the construction of a wall along the Mexican-American border as a solution to illegal immigration. Professor Katharine Donato, Director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), and Professor Elizabeth Ferris wrote, “It was hard to take seriously Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall on the Mexican border, much less his promise that Mexico would pay for it. It was such a crazy far-fetched idea – obviously a pandering pitch to American voters worried about losing their jobs. Now that President Trump has signed an Executive Order to start work on the wall and Mexican President Peña Nieto has cancelled his visit to the US, it is time to push back.”

In the op-ed on the ISIM blog, Donato and Ferris argue that maintaining friendly relations with our neighbors, Mexico and Canada, is critical, and the proposal to force Mexico to pay for a wall is not only wrong, but also not in American economic, political, or national security interest. 

“President Trump is right when he says that border control is fundamental to national sovereignty, but his actions are not the way to go about it. The United States has already taken important measures to strengthen its border with Mexico…As border enforcement has grown over the last 20 years, unauthorized migration from Mexico has declined such that, now, the best evidence suggests that net migration between the two nations is at zero. For President Trump to seek to build a wall when unauthorized migration at our southern border is way down is simply crazy. Do we really want to spend $10 billion or more to build a wall with Mexico when we have other pressing needs?” said Donato and Ferris. Read the full op-ed here.