Americans got to experience a feeling of déjà vu on Monday when newspapers once again ran headlines reading “Trump signs executive order banning migrants from Muslim-majority countries”. Through the constant barrage of news and scandals that have become America’s new reality, it is hard to tell at first whether the new order is going to mark a change in course for the administration after the messy rollout of the first one. Is the new order significantly different than the old one? Should we feel stressed out and angry? Do we need to continue protesting at airports? Do I need to break out my sharpies and poster stock? At first glance, the new order seems to be much more lenient on restrictions from the old order. The new order’s most glaring difference is that it exempts travelers from Iraq, while the old ban included travelers from Iraq; this new change is due to an apparent request from Secretary of Defense James Mattis to exclude Iraq from the ban list; this is a crucial step to better relations with the Iraqi state, which is engaged in joint efforts with US troops to combat terrorism in the country. The ban also exempts visa holders, but bans issuing new visas to people from the six countries for 90 days. The ban also roughly cuts the annual number of refugees accepted into the US in half, and suspends the refugee program put in place. In essence, the executive order still is substantially similar to its predecessor.
In order to understand the full scope of Trump’s order and whether or not it was written with effectiveness in mind, we need to revisit his reasons for including the countries he did. The Trump administration was attacked by critics questioning the choice of the original seven countries in the first order as none of them could claim citizens involved in significant terrorist attacks in the US, unlike other countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and most importantly, Saudi Arabia, which were the countries where most of the 911 terrorists came from. The Trump administration countered this criticism by stating that it got its list of countries from an executive order that Obama signed during his administration.
Let’s look at the facts. Politifact dedicates an article to comparing the Obama executive order with the old Trump ban as “flawed”, as there is a key difference in the scope, impact, and targeting language of the two orders. First, the narrow language of the Obama order focuses on “visa-processing”, or the process of figuring out which travelers can come in with which visas, and rules for issuing visas. Obama’s executive order prevented travelers who either had a dual citizenship in or visited Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Iraq and then later travelers who visited Libya, Somalia, and Yemen from using the Visa Waiver Program. Before, under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens from 38 countries who were visiting the United States for less than 90 days were allowed to enter the US without visas. Obama’s order was not an actual blanket ban on any travelers coming into the US from those countries; it was stopping people who were coming into the US without visas. Furthermore, the crucial difference is that Obama’s order was directed at “those who visited” the 7 countries in the past five years, not citizens who came from the countries. Trump’s order actually bans those who come from the countries listed, placing an emphasis on country of origin.
Critics state that the new executive order is still an attempt at a Muslim ban; despite superficial changes the purpose of the ban remains intact. At first glance, the ban seems to have significantly lightened up on areas that critics lambasted as xenophobic and targeting Muslims. The ban no longer includes an exemption for religious minorities in the countries which many viewed as a veiled attempt to discriminate against Muslims as often religious minorities in the 7 countries are non-Muslim religions like Christianity. The ban still places a 90 day freeze on issuing new visas from the citizens of new Muslim majority countries, however, and is still restricting visits from refugees.
It’s still not clear why President Trump chose those six countries besides the sole reason “Obama did it”. Does the Trump administration understand real statistics of terrorist locations, hotbeds of terrorist activity, or high risk areas for terrorist recruitment and radicalization? It seems ironic that the administration that famously lambasted the Obama administration for being weak on tackling terrorism then turned to defend its own executive order by claiming it was simply following Obama’s example, but then again many would argue we are living in a post-irony post-fact world.
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