US President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning citizens from seven countries from entering the US and indefinitely banning Syrian refugees. While the stated aim of the order is to ensure that the US doesn’t allow terrorists into the country, it makes major changes to America’s immigration system, and has sparked confusion at airports, protests around the country and denunciations from leaders around the world.
Trump’s order temporarily suspends all immigration for citizens of seven majority Muslim countries for 90 days. They are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The order calls on Homeland Security, State department officials and the director of national intelligence, to review what information the government needs to fully vet would-be visitors and come up with a list of countries that don’t provide it. The government will give countries 60 days to start providing the information or citizens from those countries will be barred from traveling to the US.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has issued a statement declaring that absent information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, residency would be a “dispositive factor in our case-by-case determination.” This means citizens of the seven target countries who hold permanent US residency ‘green cards’ will not be barred from re-entering the US.
They also clarified that dual citizens who are nationals of one of the seven target countries and a country that’s not on the list will be subject to additional security screenings, but will likely be allowed through.
Trump has ordered a four-month suspension of America’s refugee programme, to provide time to review how refugees are vetted before they are allowed to resettle in the US. He has also cut the number of refugees the US plans to accept this budget year by more than half, to 50,000 people from around the world.
During the last budget year, the US accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 people from Syria. Former President Barack Obama had set the current refugee limit at 110,000.
The temporary halt to refugee admissions does include exceptions for people claiming religious persecution, so long as their religion is a minority faith in their country.
Trump’s order did not spell out specifically what additional steps he wants but directed officials to find any other security measures that can be added to prevent people who pose a threat from using the refugee programme.
During the Obama days, vetting for refugees included in-person interviews overseas, where they provided biographical details about themselves, including their families, friendships, social or political activities, employment, phone numbers, email accounts and more. They also provided biometric information, including fingerprints. Syrians were subject to additional, classified controls that administration officials at the time declined to describe, and processing for that group routinely took years to complete.
Response at Home
Trump’s order sparked an immediate backlash and sowed chaos and outrage, with travelers getting detained at airports, panicked families searching for relatives and protesters marching against the sweeping measure — parts of which were blocked by several federal courts.
Protests were held across the country, including in sight of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York City and at international airports where travelers were temporarily detained.
Leaders of Britain and Germany joined other American allies in criticising Trump’s entry ban, voicing anger and dismay, even as some far-right politicians expressed hope the move would inspire similar measures in Europe. The far-right National Democratic Party in Germany, for instance, celebrated “the massive restriction on the entry of pseudo-refugees and Muslims to the USA.”
A petition on the British Parliament’s website, meanwhile, attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures backing its call for Trump, who has been invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II, to be barred on the basis of misogyny and vulgarity.
Many commentators have pointed out that these seven countries are all majority Muslim. Another commonality is war.
Iraq and Syria
The destabilising force of the militant organisation Islamic State has been especially strong in Iraq and Syria. In June 2014, IS shook the world by overrunning the Iraqi city of Mosul. Taking advantage of political weaknesses and ethic division in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, IS grew rapidly to the point where 10 million people lived under its power, according to the BBC.
A US-led coalition – and separately – the Syrian government, backed by Russia, pushed back against IS by dropping tens of thousands of airstrikes that weakened IS and leveled Syrian cities. By late October 2016, IS had been considerably diminished.
The violence displaced over three million Iraqis in the span of 18 months prior to the US presidential election. This left humanitarian aid agencies struggling to meet the demand for assistance, wrote Thomas Acaro of Elon University in November. His survey of international aid workers revealed stress in the system – A lack of safety is an increasingly palpable fact of life. They report seeing friends and colleagues get raped, kidnapped and, yes, even beheaded.
Airstrikes in November 2016 also destroyed the two largest hospitals in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
After Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown by a militia-led uprising in 2011, the US and other Western countries supported efforts to elect a new, democratic government. By February of 2015, the US was bombing parts of Libya in an effort to extinguish IS strongholds in the North African country. What went wrong?
Mieczyslaw Boduszynski, a former US diplomat who worked in Libya during the post-Gadhafi
transition, explained, “Over time, the vast unguarded borders and lawlessness of post-Gadhafi Libya provided the ideal environment for jihadists of various stripes to set up bases. For IS, Libya provided an opportunity not only to extend the caliphate, but to do so far away from coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.”
While threatened by the spread of IS in neighbouring Iraq, Iran’s government celebrated a victory when the Obama administration and five other countries agreed to lift sanctions against Iran in return for the country’s voluntary curbing of its nuclear ability. But the deal may have been short-lived. As David Mednicoff of University of Massachusetts Amherst observed, “Trump has promised to renegotiate the multilateral treaty that stopped Iran’s move toward nuclear weapons.”
Mednicoff also noted the Iran’s relationship in the region is shaky. “Arab Gulf states frequently express anxiety around Iran’s power. They see Iran as a threat to their countries’ autonomy and to the majority Sunni Islam that differs from the assertive minority Shi’ism central to Iran’s political ideology.”
Civil war has been raging for nearly two years in Yemen. The UN has called the conflict a “major calamity.” Vincent Durac of the University College Dublin traces the origins of the war to 2011 when a rebellion unseated the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose party had dominated the country since Yemeni unification in 1990. But what really triggered the conflict that began in 2015 was the years of failed transitional negotiations that followed Saleh’s ousting.
“More than 10,000 people have lost their lives, while over 20 million (of a total population of some 27 million) are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 3 million people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands have fled the country altogether. There are reports of looming famine as the conflict destroys food production in the country.”
Somalia and Sudan
Robert Rotberg of Harvard’s Kennedy School suggested a reason why IS may have been able to assert control in northern African countries. “Terrorists are in it as much for the loot as for the ideology.” “ISIS and al-Qaida-linked groups in Africa prosper by trafficking drugs across the Sahara and by offering “protection” to smugglers who have long been trading illicit goods throughout the continent.
Simon Reich of Rutgers, Newark cautions that “we may have been entering a new form of global war for the last three decades – in slow motion. This war is similar in some respects to prior incarnations, and significantly different in others. First, all wars have a geographic fulcrum. This one is in the Middle East and North Africa. Its epicenter spreads from Libya and Egypt to the Persian Gulf and Turkey.