Donald Trump's Executive Order banning travelers originating from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sdan, Libya, and Somalia, yet not Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which the President and Republicans have often pointed to as sources of terrorist threats, has sparked massive controversy and shifted the focus of public policy onto immigration. The ban is set to last 90 days, but new refugee admissions will be suspended for 120 days while refugees from Syria will be banned indefinitely. For those who support the ban, or find themselves unsure as to why there is so much controversy, there are several issues in play that offer meaningful lessons in proper governance.
As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump's statements helped shape the public policy debate surrounding the 2016 US Elections. As the President, his decisions are implemented with the full force of the Law. Where his impulsive and confrontational nature often sparked controversy on the campaign trail, that controversy now manifests itself in confusion and counterproductive public policies that do more harm than good. For anyone who has had to deal with a legal issue or needed to interact with the government, it is clear that the government is an imposing force like no other. To be targeted by the government, specifically the US government, is downright frightening, which is why Trump's seemingly arbitrary policies are so frightening and upsetting to so many people.
First, Trump's ban was adopted with little to no formal declaration of intent before the political figures of the Trump Administration handed down their commands. Without an imminent threat, such as the arrests of terrorist suspects that triggered the Obama Administration to adopt a somewhat similar ban against Iraq in 2011, from the aforementioned countries, Trump's campaign rhetoric from the Spring of 2016 in the wake of the San Bernardino Shoots is obviously insufficient notice. Government is a far larger, far more complex machine than Donald Trump's business empire. Even if the Trump Administration had been fully assembled at the signing of the Executive Order, it still could not just issue vague and easily misinterpreted policies, especially without consulting national security officials during the writing of the order, or providing detailed instruction for those responsible for carrying out the policies.
Second, Trump's unprecedented policy shift was bound to result in unintended consequences. Ill-considered policy stances based on political reactions to emotional situations tend to create a great deal of unintended consequences. In this case, it resulted in massive confusion, created delays, cost travelers an untold amount of money, and diverted security resources from other priorities. The confusion may well have also prevented US Permanent Residents from returning home in violation of the Law. Because America's infrastructure is only part of a complex global transport security system, the impact reaches far and wide. It also means would-be attackers can find ways around this ban by traveling to other countries first and utilizing false documentation. The lesson here is that policymakers cannot simply enact their will without addressing the harm of the unintended consequences and actually doing a cost-benefit analysis.
Third, the United States, just like any other country, has the sovereign right to control its borders and decide who is allowed inside the country. The US has a right to reject individual non-US citizens or residents individuals for any reason. The United State is, however, governed by the Constitution. The First Amendment of the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Even though only US citizens are guaranteed the protections enshrined in the Constitution, separation-of-church-and-state in practice prevents the US government from discriminating against a religion in all of its laws, including its immigration laws. Mr. Trump has made it very clear that his ban is intended to target Muslims and protect Christians. Such a ban violates the rights of US citizens, because it is an example of the ruling party enacting its religious believes and that is prohibited.
Fourth, US immigration policy has long failed to address illegal immigration. Traditionally, the US has turned a blind eye to the problem in order to reap the benefits of cheap labor, but the threat of terrorism and an overly competitive economy have turned the foreign policy issues into a major political issue. It is understandable that Westerners fear increased competition for jobs. Westerners have been so traumatized by the Great Recession and other events that they have learned to embrace disengagement, instead of problem solving when faced with serious policy issues. Unfortunately, there is no politically viable reform package. In 2014, President Obama issued an Executive Order that attempted to prioritize who would be targeted for deportation, but it failed to spark broader action on immigration. While Trump's Executive Orders are likely causing even greater controversy than those of Obama, he has yet to lead on comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the fundamental issues behind illegal immigration and border security.
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