Trump: Doing the necessary or bigotry in action?
by Suhaile Md
BARELY two weeks in power and newly minted United States (US) President Donald Trump has signed a slew of Executive Orders (EO) targeting immigrants. The most well known of which are the orders to build a wall (Jan 25) at the Mexico-US border and a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries (Jan 27).
Mr Trump’s supporters claim he is only doing the necessary for national security by tightening rules and borders. Across the political divide, they charge that the moves are ineffective and blatantly bigoted against Muslim and Mexican immigrants. Which is it?
On the Muslim ban
Some key points from the EO:
- Cuts refugee entry quota numbers from 110,000 to 50,000.
- Suspends, for 120 days, the US Refugee Admissions Programme (USRAP).
- Suspends, for 90 days, entry of all “immigrants and non-immigrants” from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.
- Upon resumption of the USRAP, “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.
- A ban on all refugees from Syria until further notice.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” said President Trump last Sunday (Jan 29).
Mr Andrew McCarthy, a writer for conservative site National Review (Jan 30), agreed that it was a ban against extremist Muslims, not all Muslims. It stems from a “need to separate our Muslim friends from our radical Islamic enemies”. And the seven countries are on the list because they either have governments that “hate the United States or are too dysfunctional to provide background checks on their nationals”, he said.
Another national review writer, Mr David French, said (Jan 28) that a refugee intake of 50,000 per year was actually the 15-year average before 2016. Former President Obama was the one who had gone beyond the norm by increasing it to 110,00 in 2016. Mr Trump is merely going back to the norm, added Mr French, citing data from the Migration Policy Institute, a US non-profit think tank.
However, it’s hard to believe the move is free of bigotry for three main reasons, opponents of the ban has countered.
Firstly, Mr Trump called for a Muslim ban during the elections campaign and when the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently asked about the EO, he stated that Mr Trump is merely fulfilling his campaign promises.
House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently asked about the EO. He stated that Mr Trump is merely fulfilling his campaign promise. Mr Trump had called for a Muslim ban then.
Secondly, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani publicly said that Mr Trump had asked him to find a legal way to ban Muslims.
And finally, the direct involvement of Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in the creation of the EO concerned some, like writer Andrew Prokop of left leaning website Vox.com. Mr Bannon ran the Trump election campaign. Before that, he used to run Breitbart news, the hard-line right wing media company.
Mr Bannon has been growing increasingly powerful in the White House, with a controversial seat in the National Security Council’s top-level meetings. A senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said that in the drafting of the EO, the input of experts from the DHS was overruled by Mr Bannon, reported Reuters on Jan 31. DHS is the national agency responsible for public security.
Critics like the left-leaning Atlantic Magazine pointed out that more terrorists have come from countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan than the seven listed, yet the two countries are not on the list. Furthermore, non-Muslim immigrants and refugees will be prioritised. This is religious discrimination, it added. Such discrimination will only embolden the extremist narrative that the US is anti-Muslim and hence the move would be counter-productive.
A recent poll by Reuters (Jan 31) found that 49 per cent of Americans supported the EO, while 41 per cent don’t. The support was split along party lines as well, with 51 per cent of Republicans who “strongly agree” with the ban, compared to 53 per cent of Democrats who “strongly disagree”.
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On the US-Mexican border wall
Some key points of the EO:
- Begin planning, designing, and constructing a wall along the US-Mexico border.
- Hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents subject to existing funds available.
- Quantify “sources of direct and indirect Federal aid or assistance to the Government of Mexico on an annual basis over the past five years”.
- Build detention facilities near the border to vet asylum claims.
Both sides of the debate on the wall agree that illegal immigration is an issue. About 3.5 per cent of the US population and 5 per cent of its civilian labour force are illegal immigrants, of whom 52 per cent are Mexicans, according to a Pew research in 2014.
Interestingly, only 39 per cent of Americans view building the wall as an important goal according to another Pew research earlier this month.
Interestingly, only 39 per cent of Americans view building the wall as an important goal according to another Pew research earlier this month. Building the wall and making Mexico pay for it was one of Mr Trump’s campaign slogans.
Supporters of the wall of course argue that the wall will be effective, with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chiming in on Twitter, that the wall he built on Israel’s southern border was effective. Of the various popular media in the US, it seems only hardline right-wing site Breitbart was effusive about its support for the wall. Recall that Mr Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist, used to head the media company.
There are practical hurdles however. The border stretches 3,100 km and the terrain is varied. While Mr Trump claims the wall will cost US$12 billion (SG$16.9 billion), independent estimates range between US$12 billion and US$25 billion, reported the BBC (Jan 26).
“The campaign is over and so is fun time. If the wall is worth having, it’s worth paying for”, wrote conservative news site National Review. It also questioned if it was worth aggravating Mexico with repeated calls, by Mr Trump, for it to pay for the US wall.
The Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled his trip to the US to signal his displeasure. He had said, “Mexico does not believe in walls. I have said it time and again: Mexico will not pay for any wall.
“I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.”
I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.
The idea of an import tariff of 20 per cent on Mexican goods was also floated by the President to raise funds. Ideas like imposing taxes on remittance out of the US into Mexico or a border tax have been suggested among others.
Opponents also question the effectiveness of the move. Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas said: “Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy.”
Furthermore, an estimated 40 per cent of illegal immigrants came in legally with visas only to overstay and never leave. A wall does not address that, wrote the Chicago Tribune (Jan 27). This echoes the sentiments of the Boston Herald editorial (Jan 26). The figure however is based on a 2006 pew research on migration.
There have also been charges of racism specific to the wall. Most prominently, Republican Congressman O’Rourke from El-Paso, Texas, said that building the wall is racist, given Mr Trump’s characterisation of Mexicans as criminals and rapists during his election campaign.
Said the lawmaker: “When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminal to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.”
When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminal to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.
The other immigration related EO, “Enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States”, signed on Jan 25, dealt with “sanctuary cities”. These are cities that have had policies that empower local authorities to deal with illegal immigrants without getting federal authorities involved. These policies give local law enforcement more discretion and freedom to build trust with local immigrant communities as well as report crimes without the fear of deportation. This tamps down crime. On the flip side, it allows illegal immigrants to slip in to avoid deportation. Mr Trump’s EO aims to address that.
EOs are basically legally enforceable instructions from the President, to the federal agencies, on how to run the show. But they are not new laws per se. The various agencies are obliged to follow the instructions. Presidents have historically used this tool to set policies that bypass Congress, the elected body of lawmakers. Over 13,000 EOs have been issued since 1789.
The Supreme Court can overturn EOs if it’s proven to flout existing laws and the US constitution. In a study between 1945 and 1998, the Court upheld 83 per cent of EOs. Congress can sometimes step in as well. A study commissioned by the Congressional Research Service in 2006 found that only 4 per cent of EOs were modified by Congress. Furthermore Congress is currently dominated by the Republican Party. It’s doubtful it will challenge Mr Trump, the party’s own Presidential Nominee.
So regardless of how people may feel about Mr Trump’s orders, whether his EOs are overturned or stay depends primarily on the Supreme Court in the months to come.
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