Commentary: Trump’s travel ban is wrong way to fight terrorism

By John McCauley

During his first week in office, President Trump signed an executive order that barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocked entry into the U.S. for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The devastating consequences reverberated immediately around the United States, with protests at airports nationwide and legal organizations scrambling to help clients and challenge the premise of what amounts to a ban on refugees and Muslims of a wide range of citizenship, immigrant or traveler statuses.

The biggest blow to the executive order yet, however, was dealt Thursday afternoon. Three judges with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the nationwide restraining order against the ban originally instated by the Western District of Washington’s own Judge James Robart a week ago Friday. Even still, President Trump appears poised to take his executive order all the way to the Supreme Court — and I have a problem with that.

I have lived all across the country, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Seattle. One constant I’ve seen is that like me, folks just want to provide for their families and keep them safe. President Trump’s executive order does the opposite. It breaks the promise of opportunity on which this country was founded and makes us less safe by alienating the very people whose help we need to fight against terrorism. To truly keep ourselves safe we need to lead with the best of American values and welcome refugees.

After all, the U.S. has a rigorous process for vetting refugees that is tightly controlled by our intelligence community. Following an initial screening process by the United Nations, U.S. agencies including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and State Department take over. These agencies use overlapping and repetitive methods, including extensive interviews, health checks, biometric data analysis and background checks to dive into refugees’ backgrounds. Syrian refugees in particular must undergo additional steps of security clearing; the entire process can take an average of 18 to 24 months to complete.

To state it simply, the system is exhaustive, and it works. President Trump’s Muslim ban, on the other hand, definitively does not.

Set aside the fact that the executive order, using the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as its rationale, does not ban those who share a nationality with any of the hijackers. The list is something of a mystery; there have been zero deaths caused by immigrants from its seven countries since 1975, and it conveniently exempts several countries where the Trump family happens to conduct business, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The real problem, however, is that there exists no magical list of countries — Muslim-majority or otherwise — from which banning travelers could keep us perfectly safe from any future attack. This ban of desperate refugees and innocent immigrants is ultimately an empty gesture that will do nothing but embarrass the U.S. on the world stage and alienate many of the very people we rely upon as partners in the fight against ISIS. And to add fuel to the fire, these policies play directly into the hands of ISIS, who argue — like the Trump Administration — that Muslims cannot peacefully coexist in the West.

With our government failing, it falls to all of us to prove that argument false.

We must offer those suffering abroad another choice — one apart radicalism or death and instead founded in safety, opportunity and prosperity. We must offer those who would come to our country, whether just for a visit or to start a new life here, that which we have always offered immigrants from around the world: A chance to succeed on their merits and live up to our values.

By choosing this American way over fear and hate, we provide a powerful moral rebuke to the administration’s draconian, xenophobic policies and make our nation stronger through our defense of our founding values of freedom, equality and inclusivity.

John McCauley is a Seattle resident and a Partner with the Truman Center for National Policy’s National Security Project.

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