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The Gates are Closing

Omri Nahmias, Washington, D.C.

Last Friday, Trump began to turn his agenda into reality, temporarily banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Has the new administration made its first rookie mistake?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

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TURBULENT WEEKEND Travelers were stuck in limbo last weekend, especially at US airports, where protesters came out in numbers to support them. The controversial move followed a tumultuous first week in office, leaving even supporters questioning the new administration (Photos: AFP/Imagebank, Omri Nahmias)

I t didn’t take long for demonstrators to react angrily to President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning entry into the United States from seven Middle Eastern countries. The rash of horror stories that resulted when thousands of travelers were detained or pulled from their flights only fanned their fury.

Several hundred protestors arrived at Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport on Saturday night to show their solidarity with the stateless travelers and express their disapproval of the Trump administration.

Some bore “Welcome Home” signs while others lofted balloons and carried flowers they planned to deliver to the detainees. Despite a court order preventing the government from deporting the travelers, they were released at a relatively slow rate of one every half hour.

In one corner of the arrivals terminal, a group of six lawyers huddled over the computers and printers they’d brought with them to facilitate appeals to release their clients.

“They don’t let us meet them despite the court order,” said one lawyer named Sabrina. “We don’t even know how many people inside have been detained.”

The demonstrators drew closer to the door that divides the customs and the arrivals hall shouting, “Let them see their lawyers!” Others shouted, “This is what America looks like!” Other demonstrators carried signs criticizing President Trump and one wore a hat that said, “Make America Rage Again.”

Times are tense in the United States. Donald Trump entered the White House with a bang, issuing a range of executive orders at such a dizzying pace that the public is having trouble keeping up with actions on the ground. “I’ll build the wall so fast your heads will spin,” was the president’s campaign promise.

Right now, it looks like he’s carrying out that promise, along with others.

His first executive orders were received with relative indifference. Trump moved quickly in his first days to extricate the US from the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to begin to wean America from Obamacare, and to forge ahead with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The understanding was that a new administration is entitled to a new agenda.

But toward the end of the week, Trump’s pen became bolder, issuing two executive orders on the hot-button immigration issue.

Trump’s first executive fiat was to end his predecessor’s “catch-and-release” program, all but ensuring that undocumented migrants, including children detained along the southern border with Mexico, are kept in custody.

But it was his second that brought forth all of the fury. A stroke of the presidential pen suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

All of these countries are either riddled with Islamic jihadist violence or under the control of Islamic governments hostile to the United States and Israel.

The Battle Ahead

For the next three to four months, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be tasked with checking the background of people from these countries to determine if they are truly seeking refuge from their war-torn nations or whether they are a threat to safety and public security.

The executive order also grants discretion to the DHS head and the secretary of state to allow certain people from these countries to enter on a case-by-case basis. But at press time, it appears as if there are broken wires across the system — even people with green cards or those who had already been properly vetted had been rejected or detained.

These included Samira Asgari, a 30-year-old Iranian with a valid visa who was headed to begin her post-doctoral fellowship at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It also included Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had worked as an interpreter for the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and Mosul.

It was for people like Samira and Hameed that Ann Marie and her husband Steve, who live in Arlington, Virginia, arrived at Dulles Airport to protest.

“We have been reading the news. We decided to show up because it’s awful,” Anne Marie said. “To detain people that have a green card from entering this country? It is ridiculous. It is un-American and unconstitutional.”

Her husband Steve added: “I am a former military person — I served in the Navy. I don’t agree with anything that is going on with this administration.”

At one point, Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, arrived and urged the demonstrators to continue their protest in the coming days.

“There is a long battle head of us,” he said, adding that he planned to travel north to Newark Airport in his home state. Senator Booker delivered a long and passionate speech about the importance of the American Constitution. Then he told the demonstrators that he had received a promise that the court order would be honored and the detainees would be released shortly. After midnight the demonstrators began to disperse, pledging to return the next day.

“This is not the USA we know.” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe rips into the immigration order at the Dulles Airport protest

While many of the protests and hysteria came from the usual quarters of anti-Trumpers, even seasoned observers found grounds to question the president’s sweeping order, its across-the-board application, and Trump’s failure to provide clear guidance to all of the relevant federal agencies.

“I don’t care what side you are on, this immigration order was not well prepared, poorly presented, and badly executed,” tweeted Matt Lee, who covers the diplomatic beat for the Associated Press in Washington, and whose tenacious and incisive reporting uncovered the Obama administration’s deceptions in the Iran nuclear deal.

However, what was also lost in the hysteria was that, aside from 2015 to 2016, when President Obama greatly increased the number of admissions, Trump’s executive order simply returns US immigration policy to what it was in Obama’s first six years — and President George W. Bush’s eight years before that — when America admitted anywhere from 20,000 to 70,000 refugees per year.

David French, a staff writer for National Review, noted that even though US law permits consideration of religion when deciding on an applicant’s immigration request, Trump’s executive order does not single out Muslims. “You can read the entire executive order from start to finish, reread it, then read it again, and you will not find a Muslim ban,” French writes. “It’s not there. Nowhere. At its most draconian, it temporarily halts entry from jihadist regions. In other words, Trump’s executive order is a dramatic climb-down from his worst campaign rhetoric.” (excerpted)

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