Making sense of the “Trump Travel Ban”: A view from outside the United States.

ntbSince the President Donald Trump’s executive order pertaining to foreign-national travel into the United States was issued this past weekend, there has been an outcry of criticism from many quarters. I’ve heard a wide range of concerns raised – including some claims that appear to conflict with one another.

As regular readers of the Nones Notes blog know, my brother, Nelson Nones, is someone who has lived and worked outside the Unites States for more than 20 years.  I’ve found Nelson to be a good sounding-board when it comes to making sense of complex or controversial issues that have an international bent.

Certainly, Nelson’s perspectives, coming as they do from an “outside-in” perspective, are always interesting.  That’s why I decided to ask for his views on this latest controversy. Here’s how he responded:

Setting up the “Muslim ban” arguments. 

crAccording to a media release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on January 27, 2017, the “apparent purpose and underlying motive” of Trump’s order “is to ban people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.” 

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump responded in a statement on January 29, 2017. “This is not about religion; this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not [among the seven countries] affected by this order [to ban U.S. entry by nationals or dual-nationals of those countries].” 

Also on January 29, 2017, Reince Priebus, Trump’s Chief of Staff, said on NBC’s Meet the Press that other countries could be added to the list, but he didn’t identify any of them.

What are the facts?

In fact, 52 countries in the world are majority Muslim (defined as countries in which Muslims comprise half the total population or more), of which 45 are not affected by the ban on U.S. entry mentioned in Trump’s statement.  

About 12% of the world’s Muslims live in the seven affected countries (Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya, ranked in descending order by size of the Muslim population), and another 63% live in the other 45 majority Muslim countries. Of the remaining 25% of the world’s Muslim population, four-fifths are concentrated in just six non-majority Muslim countries which are also not affected by the ban on U.S. entry mentioned in Trump’s statement: India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, People’s Republic of China, Tanzania and Russia (also ranked in descending order by size of the Muslim population). 

The U.S. State Department has already announced that it has suspended the issuance of visas to nationals of the seven affected countries until further notice. However, the impact of this suspension is tempered by the U.S. State Department’s previous suspension of all U.S. visa services in three of those countries: Syria (since 2012), Libya (since 2014) and Yemen (since 2015).   

Further, U.S. visa services were not available in Iran because the U. S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.  

So, before Trump’s order, U.S. visa services were locally available only in three of the seven affected countries: Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. For nationals of the other affected countries, U.S. visa services were previously available by applying in, though not necessarily traveling to, Armenia (from Iran), Djibouti (from Yemen), Jordan (from Syria), Morocco (from Libya), Turkey (from Iran), and the United Arab Emirates (from Iran). 

Another part of Trump’s order suspends the entire U.S. refugee admissions system for 120 days, and suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely. During the fourth quarter of 2016, the U.S. admitted refugees from 63 countries under this system; 47% of those refugees came from the same seven countries affected by the ban on U.S. entry mentioned in Trump’s statement.  Another 3% were nationals of 20 additional majority Muslim countries.  

Consequently, 27 majority Muslim countries are potentially affected in some way by Trump’s order – either by the ban on U.S. entry by nationals or dual nationals of those countries or by suspension of the U.S. refugee admissions system, or both. About 49% of the world’s Muslims live in these 27 countries, and another 26% live in the other 26 majority Muslim countries that are not affected in any way.  

Nevertheless, because the number of non-refugee arrivals into the U.S. from the Middle East and Africa was about 37 times greater than the number of refugees admitted from those areas in 2016, the magnitude of impact on majority Muslim countries from suspending the U.S. refugee admissions system would be considerably lower than that of banning U.S. entry for all nationals and dual nationals from the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement.   

As noted, the remaining 25% of the world’s Muslim population lives in non-majority Muslim countries. Thirty-six of those countries are potentially affected by suspension of the U.S. refugee admissions system; but Muslims comprise ten percent or more of the population in only nine of them (including India, Nigeria and Ethiopia) – and those nine countries accounted for only 4% of U.S. refugee admissions during the fourth quarter of 2016.

Nelson’s data sources for the above stats: 

  • Pew Research Center, The Future of the Global Muslim Population (2011) and other sources (Muslim population by country retrieved from Wikipedia)
  • U.S. Department of Commerce, National Travel and Tourism Office (2016) (U.S. arrivals by country)
  • U.S. State Department (2016 refugee arrivals, information on visa services)

Is it a actually Muslim ban? 

Based on the facts, clearly not. 

At least half the world’s Muslims (and perhaps as many as 85% considering the limited impact of suspending the refugee program) are untouched by Trump’s executive order. Depending on how you gauge the impact of suspending the refugee program, this translates into somewhere between one-third and four-fifths of the total population in majority Muslim countries. 

Banning “people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States” (as CAIR puts it) literally means banning every Muslim from majority Muslim countries. Trump’s order doesn’t come close to accomplishing any such purpose in its present form. Perhaps it might if enough “other countries” are added to the list in the future, but any such action is pure speculation and not a fact today.    

Is it a good idea? 

The facts presented above don’t answer this question one way or the other, but here is my opinion: 

  • It’s a politically brilliant maneuver in terms of playing to Trump supporters. In other words, it looks like a “Muslim ban” when it actually isn’t, despite what CAIR claims. It allows Trump to fulfill a campaign promise that no reasonable people thought possible – without actually doing much of anything substantial.  
  • It’s a boneheaded maneuver in terms of people who already have valid visas, “paroles” and “green cards,” for whom no probable cause exists to deny entry. None of the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement, and none of the other countries from which the U.S. accepted refugees in 2016, is a visa-free country or part of the Visa Waiver Program. In other words, everyone from those countries has had to pay steep (and non-refundable) visa application fees ranging anywhere from $160 to $500 per person. I can personally attest that the State Department’s vetting procedures were quite stringent already, and the majority of applications are denied (in Thailand where I am, at least – which happens to be one of the countries from which the U.S. accepted refugees). Those who have been “paroled” (meaning, they are permitted to temporarily leave the U.S. while their “green card” application is pending) and those who hold “green cards” have spent considerable extra time and money, including legal fees, after arriving in the United States. If they were among the unfortunate few who were in transit when Trump signed his order, and hence were returned to their home country, they spent even more time and money on transportation which has gone to waste. Denying entry to such persons without probable cause is an arbitrary denial of liberty and property which, in turn, is a fundamental breach of the Constitution’s due process clauses. It doesn’t matter if the affected people are U.S. citizens or not (the Constitution refers to “persons,” not “citizens”). For this reason, I think the government will lose most if not all the lawsuits that have been, or will be, initiated in these particular cases. 
  • It won’t make the United States safer — put a dent in the threat of terror — because of the simple fact that the overwhelming majority of would-be U.S. visitors and immigrants are untouched by the order. In 2015, only about one-tenth of one percent of U.S. arrivals came from the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement, and in 2016 only 2.5% of U.S. arrivals came from the whole of the Middle East and Africa.

So there you have it – a view from outside the United States. I think there’s room for discussion regarding the merits of the order and whether it will actually have the desired effect.

Where do you come down on the executive action? Please share your perspectives with other readers.

4 thoughts on “Making sense of the “Trump Travel Ban”: A view from outside the United States.

  1. As with any decision, there are consequences. And sometimes there are unavoidable adverse effects in the short-term — albeit a small price to pay for the long-term overall good. The decision was a good one; however, maybe the execution could have been better.

    If DJT were Barack Obama, there wouldn’t have been such a severe backlash. Your point about the status of the seven countries prior to this executive order is not being broadcast in the mainstream media.

    Executive orders and the “nuclear option” in the legislative branch are being utilized to circumvent our system of checks and balances in the government. These are dangerous precedents, and President Obama and his compatriots were warned about their use (even some in the Democratic Party warned Obama that these tactics could very well be used against them someday).

    Well, it is payback time and we now have a populist President who is (actually) fulfilling campaign promises. It is refreshing — and it scares the hell out of the Left, the Democrats and the mainstream media.

    Lead on, Mr. Trump!

  2. Underneath this discussion is a very simple point: The Islamic faith community is the only major religious group in the world with a substantial portion of its clerics advocating the murder of nonbelievers and dissidents.

    If 10,000 murders had been committed last year by Church of England choirboys, it would surely be worth raising the question: Is this a religion? Or is it a political philosophy?

    Islam needs its Martin Luther.

  3. I didn’t see any reference to the PR advantage to ISIS and allied groups.

    That is still my primary concern, and could be a recruitment tool for many unsettled, discontented people already in the U.S. from anywhere — which runs counter to the claimed goal and benefit of implementing the ban, whatever sort of ban it is.

    In the same way that the optics are brillaint for Trump supporters, they are almost as brillaint for ISIS.

  4. John Duffy raises an interesting point, which motivated me to dig a little deeper into the available data. Here’s what I found:

    Iran and Iraq are the most heavily impacted of the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement. In 2015, two-thirds of U.S. arrivals from those countries were Iranian or Iraqi — 42% from Iran, plus 25% from Iraq.

    Suspension of the U.S. refugee system would further impact these two countries, albeit to a lesser degree. Most recently, 18% of U.S. refugees were Iranian or Iraqi, and they constituted 38% of the refugees admitted from the seven countries mentioned in Trump’s statement.

    The Independent, a U.K. newspaper, reports that Iran and Iraq, together with Azerbaijan and Bahrain, are the only Shia majority countries in the world; and that anywhere between 85% to 90% of the world’s Muslims are Sunni. So, it would appear that Trump’s order affects, and might offend, Shia Muslims disproportionately in comparison to the Sunni Muslims.

    ISIS and Al-Qaeda are Sunni groups. Presently, Iranian-backed forces are actively fighting ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Militarily, ISIS is on the defensive and losing ground. Under these circumstances, if “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” then by rights ISIS leaders might at least think twice before inciting yet more Sunni animosity toward the U.S. — even if Trump’s order genuinely offends them.

    I’m not saying that ISIS and allied Sunni groups, such as Al-Qaeda, won’t try to use Trump’s order as a recruitment tool, but it’s possible they might decide to give this opportunity a miss for tactical reasons — at least in the short run. For this reason, the optics of Trump’s order could be considerably dimmer for ISIS than they are for Trump supporters.

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