Monday, March 06, 2017

New Trump executive order very similar to the old one

Much as I hate to continue mentioning "that man", he has today signed a new executive order to replace the previous travel ban that caused so much controversy back in January, and which was finally laughed out of court and rescinded.
This one places a 90-day ban on US travel visas for citizens of six Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa, along with a 120-day ban on all refugees entering the country. Six countries, not seven? Yes, Iraq has apparently earned a reprieve for boosting its visa screening and data sharing policies (although it is actually probably more to do with some negotiations regarding Iraq's role in fighting Islamic State). This leaves Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen on the blacklist. Syria is also no longer singled out for an indefinite ban, and total refugee admissions for 2017 from all countries have been slashed from previous years, with a hard cap of 50,000.
The executive order does show at least some evidence of having been run by a lawyer or two, unlike the original, which was just the amateurish product of power-drunk Trump advisors Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller. Refugees already approved by the State Department will still be allowed to enter, as will foreign national already en route to the USA when the order takes effect; legal Green Card holders and foreign nationals with work visas who happen to hail from the six countries will not be affected; it does not give priority to specific religious minorities, such as Christians, like the original order did; there is also explicit permission for government officials to grant visas to prohibited nationals on a "case-by-case" basis (although it is far from clear how that might work); and, finally, the new directive is set to take effect in 10 days time in an attempt to avoid some of the worst of the chaos and confusion that transpired at US airports and border crossings last time.
However, Democratic politicians and civil liberties campaigners are still promising protests and robust legal challenges to the executive order. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seems more than willing to take the lead on this. One of the things that any legal challenge will focus on is whether the Trump administration can prove that the order is actually needed to keep the country safe. Also, it still appears to discriminate on the basis of religion, which was deemed unconstitutional in the appeals court case over the previous Muslim ban, and so a First Amendment freedom of religion challenge is a distinct possibility. The judges in the last case were also quite clear that Mr. Trump's past statements about Muslims could be taken into account in future legal proceedings.
The new order still seems intent on targeting a bunch of countries which have, at least historically, had nothing to do with US terrorism: of those charged with, or who died engaging in, jihadist terrorism in the USA since 9/11, the vast, vast majority have been US-born or naturalized citizens, and the number of refugees that have been involved in such attacks is negligible. An analysis by the CATO Institute shows that, since as far back as 1975, only 15 individuals from these six Muslim states have been convicted of terrorism offences, and the number of Americans killed in terrorist attacks on US soil by foreigners from the six countries that are affected by Trump's new executive order has been ... precisely zero! In fact, the Extremist Crime Database has recorded 39 attacks in the USA by Islamist-inspired extremists since 1990, as compared to 178 attacks by far-right extremists.
So, it seems that Mr. Trump has learned a thing or two from his burned fingers the first time around, and this revised executive order has been deliberately couched in terms that try to avoid some of the constitutional concerns and legal challenges that sank v1.0. In the process, however, the effect of this is that it has been significantly scaled and watered down, even if his spokespeople will not admit as much, and it still has many of the fatal flaws exhibited by the original version.
Whether this order will stick remains to be seen. But Americans should be under no illusions that this will make their country a safer place, as Trump and his henchmen claim. If anything it is only likely to increase home-grown violent extemism on both sides, while at the same time undermining the trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, and alienating America's foreign allies.

And, guess what, very much like the old ban, the new ban has also been blocked in the courts, this time courtesy of the state of Hawaii (where I am due to visit in just a few short weeks!), although Maryland is also in the midst of its own court case against the order. Mr. Trump, predictably, is blathering about "unprecedented judicial overreach", but given that federal judges are ruling his actions unconstitutional, the overreach is apparently all his.
Hell, it's almost enough to renew my faith in America (or at least the American judicial system).

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