It’s a rare day when Dick Cheney and Lindsay Graham are in agreement with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslim entry into the United States are so absurd and outrageous that he has people on both sides of the aisle railing against him.
In Trump’s simplistic, uninformed world view, the constitutional questions of a religious test to enter the United States are of no concern. Neither are details of how one would determine who’s a Muslim. Would Trump call for Caucasian or Christian males like himself be barred from theaters, schools, or political gatherings since the majority of mass shooters share his ethnicity or religion?
Ignorant of the thousands of applicants whose visas are denied, revoked, cancelled, or stuck in interminable security checks every day, Trump’s proposed solution accepts the radical’s narrative of religion, exposes his ignorance on the laws and processes of this country, and poses an even greater threat to national security than the national security problems they purport to solve. This latest proposal is much the same as his “solution” for immigration reform in general: build a wall.
The reality is comprehensive inter-agency counter-terrorism screening has been a part of the process for admission of foreign nationals since before 9/11. Since then, the visa issuance process has become vastly more complex. Applicants are screened regardless of the type of visa they apply for, be it as a student, tourist, worker, artist, or under the Visa Waiver Program, or as a permanent resident.
If a case is flagged for review based on law enforcement or intelligence, State Department regulations require a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO, to be obtained before the foreign national can receive a visa to enter the United States. The foreign national is run through as many as seven different interconnected government databases. Other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and the NSA are constantly consulted to update visa issuance procedures. The data in these databases is also dynamic, and can be updated quickly in response to new intelligence.
Counter-terrorism screening works, and it happens every day for every type of visa. The refugee screening process is even more exhaustive. It can take 18 – 24 months and it takes longer to screen refugees because they usually don’t have documents with them.
A “security check” isn’t some pro forma review done for appearance’s sake, but is instead a thorough screening to determine whether this person will be allowed into the United States. They are performed by government agents who take their job very seriously. Trump’s ignorant rhetoric is a slap in the face of these dedicated public servants.
Many politicians are questioning “fiancee” visa procedures, or the Visa Waiver Program. This is also a misguided inquiry. The issue is counter-terrorism screening, not the particular visa process. And counter-terrorism screening already happens for all visas. While no system is perfect, shutting the whole thing down actually enhances the threat to America. Do Trump & Co. really think the complex security check process run and maintained by experienced officials would have been established if it would have been easier to just stop immigration?
Perhaps more importantly is the fact that Trump’s proposal only feeds into the problem that he is trying to address. National security specialist Benjamin Wittes noted that rejecting refugees, particularly on the basis of their religion or national origin, actually presents ISIS and other extremist groups fodder for their narrative of an apocalyptic clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. ISIS profits from Trump rhetoric. Moreover, such a call would break up families, hinder business and effectively build a wall from the rest of the world.
Terrorism has multiple causes. Pretending it can be stopped by banning Muslim entry is a fantasy soundbyte made to get ratings. But there are real lives at stake here. This is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction.
A robust background check system – which we already have – must be considered as one part of a broader national security strategy. Rejecting xenophobia in favor of actually countering ISIS isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also the safer one