Stumbling Out of the Blocks

There is much to criticize about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, particularly the slapdash way the Administration drafted the order and announced it to the agencies responsible for implementing it. The Administration apparently bypassed the normal interagency review process, which checks orders for legality and advises on possible consequences. No doubt the Administration calculated that it couldn’t trust Obama holdovers not to create obstacles—a calculation that seems to have been correct in some cases. But lawyers do help sometimes, and it’s wise to listen even to bureaucrats on occasion. The normal interagency review could have avoided much of the confusion at airports over the weekend, which benefited no one, and which created a sense of disorder which will not help the Administration in the future. It would have been much better for the Administration to wait until its new team was fully in place, including its Attorney General, before taking legal action bound to inflame many people.

And then there is President Trump’s divisive campaign rhetoric about a “Muslim ban,” and self-aggrandizing statements from his informal advisers, which taint good-faith efforts to deal with the refugee crisis that currently exists throughout the West. As a nation, we are going to have to figure out how to address this crisis without simply opening our borders to everyone or closing them to people who deserve our help. Inflammatory language only makes this task harder.

And yet, the unhinged reaction to the order also doesn’t help. Don’t believe the hashtags: the order does not ban Muslim immigration to the US or impose a religious test for admission. The language is quite technical, and there are complications I lack space to address here. But, basically, the order does two things. First, it places a temporary ban on the admission of refugees from anywhere in the world, for 120 days, while officials review our current procedures to determine whether further security measures are necessary. After this 120-day period, the government will resume admitting refugees, up to 50,000 this year, under whatever new procedures officials devise.

The government will also be authorized, after 120 days, to give priority to refugees who are religious minorities and subject to persecution in their home countries. In an interview, President Trump indicated that he had Christians in mind. But by its terms the order extends to other religious minorities as well. In other words, it could cover Yazidi refugees from Iraq and Ahmadi Muslim refugees from Pakistan. It is not a unique preference for Christians—an issue I will address more in a moment.

Second, the order imposes a temporary ban, for 90 days, on the admission of all immigrants, not just refugees, from seven Muslim-majority countries the Obama Administration designated as likely harbors for terrorists, including Iraq and Syria—again, while the government reviews our procedures to see if further security measures are necessary. Muslim immigrants from other countries are not affected. And, with respect to these countries, no exception for religious minorities exists, including for Christians. Christians from Iraq and Syria, for example, who face brutal repression in their home countries, will be denied admission to the US during the 90-day review period.

In short, the order is not as dramatic or sinister as opponents allege. It may be imprudent; some Mideast Christians worry that the order may make them even greater targets for Islamist groups. It may be counterproductive or otherwise inadvisable. But if one were looking for a blanket ban on Muslims or a unique preference for Christians, one wouldn’t find them in this order.

To be sure, the fact that Christians are among the most persecuted religious minorities in the world today—perhaps the most persecuted religious minority—makes it likely that many Christians eventually will qualify for refugee status under the order. Given the religious oppression they suffer, Christians may well benefit disproportionately. But that result would not be unfair. It would simply reflect sad realities in our world.