A Need to Be Responsive: Corri Zoli Speaks to Syracuse.com About the Trump Immigration EO

Trump immigration order: Is it a Muslim ban? What’s the case for it?

(Syracuse Post-Standard | Feb. 2, 2016) The partisan furor over President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, the problems caused by its rushed implementation and the campaign rhetoric that preceded it are drowning out discussion of the policy itself.

“Trump has an uncanny ability, in part through his ‘brute force’ use of language, to force difficult conversations.”

The executive order halts for 90 days the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants from seven nations – Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The countries are not named in the order. They were identified as “countries of concern” by the Department of Homeland Security pursuant to a 2015 law that tightened visa requirements for travelers after the Paris terror attacks.   

Trump’s executive order also shuts down admission of refugees from any country for 120 days, caps refugee admissions at 50,000 and indefinitely suspends admission of Syrian refugees.

During these pauses, the Secretary of Homeland Security is required to review security procedures and develop new screening procedures with the goal of, as the title of the order says, “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”

Corri Zoli, director of research and assistant research professor at the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, said the negative reaction to Trump’s order may have more to do with the political polarization around the new president than its content. The executive order is not all that different in its assumptions from the Obama-era law that drew little attention or protest, she said. 

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. The law closed security gaps that could have allowed terrorists to get to the United States through countries whose residents don’t need a visa to travel here. The law requires such “visa waiver countries” to strengthen their own security measures and to share information with the United States. It requires travelers or nationals from the “countries of concern” to obtain a visa, subjecting them to greater scrutiny.

Zoli said rationale for the 2015 law was the 6,000-plus Europeans who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to fight with ISIS or other terror groups. Their European passports could have allowed them entry into the United States without a visa. The countries of concern also lack basic security protocols, do not cooperate with international police to identify fraudulent passports, or simply may be hostile to the United States. Meanwhile, refugees fleeing from war may have little or no documentation of their identities. All of these factors heighten the risk of a terrorist slipping through.

“The sheer size of the immigrant population the U.S. deals with — not to mention all the categories of visa holders and travelers — makes these security policies need to be responsive to changing global conflict dynamics and terrorist changing strategies,” Zoli said.

Her reading of the executive order is that it is not a religious/Muslim ban, a nation of origin ban or a travel ban, “but it does aim to make for a better security screening system from countries of concern, even if one is just traveling through these repeatedly” …

… In a BBC interview, Jacobson responded to critics who pointed out that none of the terrorists who have attacked the United States came from the seven countries referred to in Trump’s order:

“… in terms of whether people from those countries have conducted past attacks, that’s not the point of the security measures that are taken in immigration, it’s meant to prevent foreign fighters in a new environment, one that didn’t exist 10 years ago, being infiltrated into the U.S. much as they’ve been infiltrated into Europe, and ISIS stated goal is to infiltrate people. That’s not something that existed several years ago. So I think it’s apples and oranges to say that just because no one from these countries has previously attacked that there isn’t a real threat.”

Zoli, of Syracuse University, said the president’s brash approach is forcing us to have discussions we’ve largely sidestepped in this country as millions of refugees streamed out of conflict zones and into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the European continent.

“Trump has an uncanny ability, in part through his ‘brute force’ use of language, to force difficult conversations and get us to break through on the sensitivities and political correctness barriers that had held the public back from dealing with some basic obligations of governance,” she said.

To read the full opinion piece, click here.