On December 7, 2015 presidential candidate Donald Trump issued a controversial campaign pledge: in his own words, he called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” His initial statement (which can be read on his website here) did not make any reference to this proposed Muslim ban being “temporary”. The only cited source in the statement was the Center for Security Policy, a right-wing think tank classified as a “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
This position was still considered extreme despite prevalent Islamophobia in the Republican Party. During the campaign, Team Trump had a difficult time defending the initial policy, as this timeline demonstrates. By the time that Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to become president, his original policy had become so muddled with follow-up rhetoric that it is difficult to pin down what the proposal was.
On Friday, the world found out exactly what became of the proposal. Trump, executing an executive order, banned travel to the United States by any citizen of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan or Yemen. That bans over 218 million people from these seven Muslim-majority countries. The order also has a provision granting the Department of Homeland Security the ability to suggest other countries that should be added to the list.
According to reporting by People, since September 11, 2001, “zero fatal attacks were carried out by immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries targeted by the ban.” Further, none of the Muslim-majority nations in which Trump has business deals were affected by this order, despite countries such a Saudi Arabia having tangible ties to anti-American terrorist groups.
The order also banned all refugees from entering the United States for four months. It cut the number of refugees to be admitted in 2017 by half, and it outright banned all refugees from Syria. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees are the single most heavily screened and vetted.”
Historical data backs this assertion according to a recent study:
Between 1975-2015, the United States admitted approximately 700,000 asylum-seekers and 3.25 million refugees. Four asylum-seekers and 20 refugees later became terrorists and launched attacks on US soil. […] The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by an asylum-seeker was one in 2.73 billion a year. The chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is one in 3.64 billion a year.
However, to the Trump administration, not all refugees are created equal. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Service, Trump announced that Christian refugees would be given priority over others. Yet, in the aftermath of the executive order, six Christians have been deported back to the Middle East.
The effects from the Muslim ban are being felt already. Everyone from professional basketball players to scientists are unable to enter the United States. A 21-year-old woman fighting cancer is unable to have her father by her side. A 12-year-old girl faced being sent back to war-torn Yemen despite both of her parents possessing U.S. citizenship.
Amidst widespread protests and administrative confusion, the Trump administration reversed course, announcing that citizens of the aforementioned seven nations could enter the country if they already held permanent residency in the United States. That’s roughly half of a million people.
Trump defended his executive order by claiming precedent: “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.” The two policies are very different, earning Trump’s comment the “Two Pinocchios” rating from The Washington Post. In contrast to Trump’s executive order, President Obama’s action was much more limited in scope, only affecting one country, only temporarily affecting refugees, and all stemming from a specific incident of violence. It also wasn’t so much a “ban”, but a slowdown while security procedures were reevaluated.
It is difficult to know where all of this will lead. Trump-style politics loathes reversing course in the face of critics, but the administration is on a historically unpopular course:
Days until achieving MAJORITY disapproval from @Gallup
Bush I: 1336
Bush II: 1205
Trump: 8. days. pic.twitter.com/kv2fy0Qsbp
— Will Jordan (@williamjordann) January 29, 2017
Even if this executive order is struck down in court, the emergence of the policy itself shows that the anti-Muslim bigotry of the campaign trail will have a cozy home in the White House. The true colors of the Trump administration are on full display in a way so brazen that they are impossible to avoid. Perhaps the scariest part is that Trump hasn’t even been in power for two whole weeks.
In Post Notes, I add some additional thoughts or context to a blog post I’ve previously written. That can be found here.