On Immigration Policy
There was quite the hullabaloo this weekend over President Trump’s executive order barring travelers and refugees from a limited list of Muslim-majority countries. In addition the the innumerable social media meltdowns, there were protests across the country at airports and government centers.
Mixed in among all the knee-jerk outrage were some islands of thoughtful analysis (see David French at NRO, D.C. McAllister at The Federalist, and Nicki F at The Liberty Zone). I spent some small amount of time trying to calm people down myself. In doing so, I ran across a large number of folks who not only had not read the EO themselves (if you haven’t, see the first link in this post) but also exhibited an extraordinary degree of ignorance as to what it actually entailed.
I near as I could suss out, most folks immediate reaction was some combination of “Trump is Hitler!” and “Keeping out refugees is immoral!” As someone whose first instinct is to be an open borders advocate, I share the qualms of those that object to denying entry to refugees fleeing oppression and war. That said, I am not so blinded by my own preferred policy that I am ignorant of both the larger security concerns (I refer you to the problems in Europe with their refugee populations) or the longer-term economic factors (welfare states must have tight immigration policies).
My urge for calm was not helped by the inexcusable incompetence demonstrated by the White House when ICE began barring green card holders from reentry. Nor when they barred long-term allies from Iraq from entry (the inexcusable slowness of this latter group’s admission has been a stain on our national honor since former-President Bush’s administration).
But now that we’ve all had a few days to catch our breath, let’s discuss two fundamental questions: 1) Is immigration to the United States a right for all people or a privilege we extend to a select number? 2) Can we–should we–discriminate against immigrants on the basis of their religion?
1) I think most of us agree that there is no right to immigrate into any country, including ours. In spite of that (presumed) consensus, a great many folks appeared to be making exactly that argument at protests this last weekend. I’m inclined to suspect that much of the protestors’ anger was really caused by Mr. Trump’s occupancy of the White House, but I’ll stipulate that at least some folks were out there protesting because they really believed someone’s rights were being violated.
Still, if we agree that immigration is a privilege, then we must also agree on some restrictions–albeit preferably restrictions that are based on logic and long-term political policies. The Constitution places responsibility for setting immigration and naturalization policies with Congress alone. Congress, of course, has ceded considerable authority to the president, which is why immigration has become such a political football these last several years.
So if immigration is a privilege, there must logically be restrictions on who is admitted in order to administer that privilege, and it is Congress’s (abrogated) responsibility to determine those restrictions. What should those restrictions be? That leads us to:
2) Is religion a moral basis for restricting immigration? In light of our nation’s history of anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish immigration restrictions (not to mention the various racist restrictions against Eastern Europeans and Asians), the answer would seem to be no. But should it be in the case of Muslims? At the risk of being called an Islamophobe let me point out that the Islamic world has been in conflict with the West, on and off, since the 7th century. Some of our wars have been started by them, some by us (“us” in this case meaning Europe and–much later–the United States). Of late that conflict has been driven by two ideologies on the Islamic side and one on ours.
The Sunni Muslim world has been infected to an alarming degree by Wahhabism. (Our Saudi allies have some considerable measure of responsibility for that.) Wahhabism is a dark throwback to the very worst tenets of Islam, and motivates a considerable amount of what we call “Islamism” today.
The Shia Muslim world is led by Iran. Which means led by the ayatollahs. Which means led by a group of religious fanatics with an apocalyptic belief system. Moreover, modern Iran is heir to a long history of desire for regional hegemony. (I urge you to do some reading on Iran. It’s fascinating; the conflict for dominance of the Middle East between Iran and the West goes back a good 2,000 years.)
On our side of the equation is our alliance with Israel. Long time readers know that I am a fervent supporter of Israel (and yes, I’m familiar with the Liberty Incident). Despite that I am not ignorant that our alliance with and (occasionally wavering) support for Israel fuels a considerable amount our current conflict with the Islamic world. Yet I remain a supporter and believe that our national policy should always have us firmly in Israel’s corner.
(For the record, anyone who wants to use “But the Crusades!” as a justification for Islamic antipathy for the west is betraying a stunning lack of historical awareness. Whatever rallying point they may be for said antipathy today, the Crusades were a reaction to the Islamic conquest of Western lands both in the Levant and Western Europe. You don’t get to pretend away historical facts and be taken seriously in the same conversation.)
Bearing these three realities in mind, it would be the absolute height of willful idiocy not to consider a potential refugee’s religion when weighing their admission to the U.S. However I also believe that most Muslims are just folks, and that they want the same thing other immigrants want: a better life. So after sufficient vetting (whatever “sufficient” may actually mean) being a Muslim should not be a bar to immigration.
All that said, I believe that Congress needs to reassert itself as the arbiter of immigration policy. I also believe that President Trump’s ham-handed efforts at setting new immigration policy (restricting travel and immigration from current hotbeds of jihadism) was as useful as a submarine screen door. I was no more impressed by his EO (or the subsequent stupidity of barring green card holders from admission) than I was all the overwrought virtue signaling that went on this weekend. I am aware that the EO played well to his base. I am also aware that much of his base are taking counsel of their fears. But I am also aware that those fears have some legitimate roots, and screaming “racist” at every American that has been watching events unfold in Europe with a jaundiced eye won’t win Mr. Trump’s opponents any new allies.
It’s a thorny issue with no easy answers. Let’s all stop pretending otherwise.