Yesterday, President Trump signed yet another executive order, this time banning the issuance of new visas and the entry into the United States of anyone from a list of seven countries across the Middle East, for the vast majority of visa types.
As of the 27th January, people holding citizenship from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, or Somalia will no longer be able to enter the United States, nor receive visas to do so, at least for the next 90 days. The program to receive refugees from Syria has also been suspended indefinitely.
President Trump is expected to sign more executive orders this month
There are several issues with this, so let’s unpack them.
First off, the numbers just don’t add up. Last year, the Cato Institute did a study on visa types and terrorist attacks by foreign nationals from 1975 to 2015. The study was principally done to show that a moratorium on immigration was not economically viable given the risks, which is a little odd, but that’s by the by, and the data therein is useful. Here’s a graph from that report showing deaths caused by foreign born nationals in the US versus the general murder rate in the country minus those attacks.
As you can see, there’s the obvious spike in 2001 for 9/11, but beyond that the data is statistically insignificant. According to the study, aside from 9/11 there were 41 deaths in the 41-year period covered by the study, or the equivalent of one death per year. To put this into context, American-born terrorists (or those whose visa record couldn’t be obtained) killed some 408, or closer to ten per year, which doesn’t include mass shootings. For further context, at least 13,286 people were killed by guns in the US in 2015 alone, or some 36 per day.
Perhaps the most repugnant part of the order is the complete ban on refugees from Syria, a country whose rebels the U.S first supported and then left to suffer under the bombs of Assad and Putin. The Cato study shows that since 1971, refugees have killed three people in the United States, all for seemingly political reasons, and they were all Cubans murdering dissidents of various regimes. Over a million refugee visas were issued for every deadly act of terrorism committed by a refugee.
Sources: John Mueller, ed., Terrorism Since 9/11: The American Cases; RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents; National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism Global Terrorism Database; Center on National Security; Department of Homeland Security; Pew Hispanic Research Center; Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System; and author’s estimates.
So, the numbers show it’s largely a statistical insignificance, but that’s perhaps the least of our worries. What else? Let’s next break down the nationalities of those who have committed acts of terrorism in the United States. The 9/11 attackers were Saudi, Egyptian, Emirati, and Lebanese. None of those countries are covered by the travel ban, just for good measure.
But it’s not about that, is it? Let’s not pretend that if those countries were included on this list it would suddenly be okay. This travel ban tars all people with the same brush and sends out the very clear message of suspicion and othering of those trying to escape persecution. Blanket bans lack nuance and are never helpful.
By banning a whole that you’re putting some incredible people at risk. It’s imperative to have people who want to flee ISIS and Jihadist regimes in the Middle East welcomed at the borders of the West. These are the next generation in that battle of ideas. Leave them to be slaughtered in Syria, in Iraq, and you deprive the world of eloquent voices of dissent against the very thing you claim to be trying to fight. You don’t have to look far to prove this theory. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a passionate and effective speaker against FGM and the treatment of women in Islam, is a Somali refugee who may not have made it out of her country alive without refugee papers.
Likewise, Faisal Saeed al Mutar, an Iraqi born secular human rights activist who had family members murdered there, who was granted asylum in the U.S. under President Obama in 2013. He is now unable to leave the country because of uncertainty over whether he would be allowed back in.
This isn’t even to mention the Iraqi interpreters who live in constant danger and fear of their lives who may now never make it to the States, or if they did make it,cannot leave for fear of their return being blocked. The executive order is short sighted, poorly worded, and people are going to die because of it; people who were ready to begin life anew in the United States, people who are persecuted because of their religion, their political affiliations, or because of what side of a border they were born on. And this after having gone through what is already an incredibly stringent and lengthy process to enter the U.S. as a refugee. And again, this will mainly affect those who were almost at the end of the process and were making final preparations to travel to America.
Now they can’t.
And it doesn’t stop there. The latest news coming out is that it also applies to dual nationals, so for example, any British Iraqi would be banned from travel under the terms of the order, as would Iraqi born British MP Nadhim Zawahi, who says that he has had it confirmed to him by a lawyer that he will be unable to travel to the USA because of his country of birth. Have fun explaining that one to your constituents, Mrs May.
I’m a British citizen & so proud to have been welcomed to this country. Sad to hear ill be banned from the USA based on my country of birth
— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) 28 January 2017
To be clear, bring in all the extra checks you want, that’s fine, but don’t abandon those in need. By denying an escape route to those under real threat of persecution, by denying a home to those free-thinkers and dissidents who speak out against those same regimes so many in the west find so repulsive, you are denying them a voice, and you are making sure the bad guys win.
Emma Lazarus said all this better than I ever could, so I’ll permit her the final words.
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”