Trump’s travel ban a far cry from orig­i­nal

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

With US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s travel ban tak­ing ef­fect Thurs­day, the White House de­clared vic­tory on the first ma­jor pol­icy push of his pres­i­dency. But it could not have been the win Trump imag­ined. What was once de­scribed as a blan­ket ban on Mus­lims, then be­came a tem­po­rary ban on vis­i­tors from seven ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries, is now a list of con­fus­ing new visa re­stric­tions. Trump’s eye-pop­ping cam­paign prom­ise to de­liver se­cu­rity by lim­it­ing en­try into the US has be­come the in­cred­i­ble shrink­ing travel ban, a plan rewrit­ten, tweaked, wa­tered down and lit­i­gated nearly beyond recog­ni­tion.

All but lost in the five-month edit­ing process and court fight is the pres­i­dent’s stated aim: Keeping dan­ger­ous peo­ple out of the US Trump ini­tially billed the tem­po­rary ban on vis­i­tors from cer­tain coun­tries and refugees as an ur­gent and nec­es­sary tool to keep out would-be ter­ror­ists while the gov­ern­ment crafted new “ex­treme vet­ting” pro­ce­dures. But five months and no ban later, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has made lit­tle ef­fort to build a stronger case and of­fered scant new ev­i­dence to back up its claims.

The re­stric­tions that took ef­fect Thurs­day evening, re­in­stated tem­po­rar­ily by the Supreme Court, are a far cry from Trump’s ini­tial ex­ec­u­tive or­der, which sparked protests, chaos at air­ports and le­gal chal­lenges in his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ear­li­est days. That or­der was with­drawn af­ter be­ing re­placed with a ver­sion that Trump him­self de­scribed as “wa­tered down” and “po­lit­i­cally cor­rect”.

“What the Supreme Court did was wa­tered it down even fur­ther,” Kari Hong, an im­mi­gra­tion law ex­pert at Bos­ton Col­lege Law School, said of the ver­sion that took ef­fect. The jus­tices’ rul­ing ex­empts peo­ple if they can prove a “bona fide re­la­tion­ship” with a US per­son or en­tity. Un­der State Depart­ment guide­lines, visa ap­pli­cants from six Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries for the next 90 days need to show close fam­ily or busi­ness ties to the United States. Cit­i­zens of Syria, Su­dan, So­ma­lia, Libya, Iran and Ye­men with a par­ent, spouse, fi­ance, child, adult son or daugh­ter, son-in-law, daugh­ter-in-law or sib­ling al­ready in the United States could be al­lowed to en­ter.

Jour­nal­ists, stu­dents, work­ers or lec­tur­ers who have valid, for­mal in­vi­ta­tions or em­ploy­ment con­tracts in the US are ex­empt from the ban. The same re­quire­ments, with some ex­cep­tions, ap­ply for the next 120 days to refugees from all na­tions who are still await­ing ap­proval. Ex­perts aren’t ex­pect­ing large num­bers of peo­ple to be im­me­di­ately af­fected. Tem­ple Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Peter Spiro, an im­mi­gra­tion law ex­pert, noted the num­bers are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict be­cause of likely le­gal chal­lenges over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the term “bona fide”, which the court did not de­fine.

Se­cu­rity Mer­its

While Trump de­clared the court rul­ing a “win”, his ad­min­is­tra­tion did not lay out a clear case for the na­tional se­cu­rity mer­its of the plan. In a con­fer­ence call with re­porters Thurs­day, only one of five ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials - one rep­re­sent­ing the White House couched the Supreme Court or­der as a step that will have a marked im­pact on im­prov­ing na­tional se­cu­rity. The other four of­fi­cials, from the de­part­ments of State, Jus­tice and Home­land Se­cu­rity, de­scribed the ac­tions more nar­rowly.

Asked specif­i­cally how the mea­sures would im­prove se­cu­rity, a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said only, “The guid­ance we have from the pres­i­dent is to put a pause on cer­tain travel while we re­view our se­cu­rity pos­ture.” The of­fi­cials all spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity de­spite de­scrib­ing a pub­lic ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

The White House sees the Supreme Court de­ci­sion as a tem­po­rary mea­sure, and is con­fi­dent it will win on the mer­its when the court hears the case later this year. John Mal­colm, a vice pres­i­dent at the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to al­low parts of the ban to take ef­fect and to hear the case was a good sign for those who sup­port the ban. “I think it sends a strong sig­nal that the pres­i­dent is likely to pre­vail. As I think he should,” Mal­colm said, adding that he be­lieved the court was al­low­ing “90 per­cent” of what the pres­i­dent ini­tially set out to do to take ef­fect.

But it re­mains un­clear whether even the orig­i­nal ban would have im­proved se­cu­rity. Na­tional se­cu­rity ex­perts have warned that the pro­posal alien­ated mod­er­ate Mus­lims and turned off al­lies who the US re­lies on in the fight against ex­trem­ist groups. The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment’s in­tel­li­gence arm found in Fe­bru­ary that cit­i­zen­ship is an “un­likely in­di­ca­tor” for a ter­ror­ism threat to the United States. A draft re­port ob­tained by AP said few peo­ple from the six coun­tries af­fected by the ban have car­ried out at­tacks or been in­volved in ter­ror­ism-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in the US since the start of the Syr­ian civil war in 2011. The gov­ern­ment said the draft re­port was “from a sin­gle in­tel­li­gence source ver­sus an of­fi­cial, ro­bust doc­u­ment” and said it was in­com­plete.

Spiro said the travel ban has been “ab­surd from the get-go and it’s no less ab­surd now”. He ar­gued that any na­tional se­cu­rity ends could be ac­com­plished with a much nar­rower fo­cus on peo­ple who have his­tor­i­cally posed a risk. “It’s all about pol­i­tics. It has noth­ing to do with se­cu­rity and counter-ter­ror­ism ac­tiv­i­ties,” he said. —AP

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