I have discovered over a lifetime of living that in a general discussion of a heated topic it is best to let the firebrands speak first and when the emotion has died down, try to raise some sensible facts in a calm voice. That frequently helps resolve the discussion.
I think that we are at this same place in the uproar/hysteria/chaos over President Trump’s immigration orders of recent days.
So let’s reiterate some facts.
One. President Trump won the election. He did not receive a majority of the votes cast but he did receive what I will call an “electoral majority,” i.e., a majority of the votes in enough states to become president under our Constitution. (In my opinion some of the recent protests are less about his post-election policies and more about his victory at the polls.)
Two. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Trump has moved to restrict immigration, at least temporarily. Controlling our borders was the centerpiece of his campaign. More particularly he said he wanted to tighten the “vetting process” for people entering the country legally from some countries, and to stop the influx of people into the country illegally. The vetting process is already quite rigorous, though made more difficult when refugees come from countries in chaos, like Syria.
Three. Legal immigration to this country (i.e., immigration with the permission of the United States) is at the highest level in 23 years. According to the Pew Research Center, we admitted 85,000 immigrants last fiscal year. Nearly half were Muslims. The Obama administration was on schedule to admit 110,000 people this fiscal year.
Four. Congress has given the president enormous discretion to determine who should be admitted to this country. In fact this is the very same discretion that President Obama cited as authority for not deporting the children of immigrants who came here illegally. The courts historically have been extremely reluctant to second-guess the president’s authority, although they have said that Congress could by law restrict it.
Five. Although Trump in the campaign talked of banning Muslim immigrants, the executive order he signed does not do that. It temporarily restricts immigration from seven, mostly Muslim countries that were already on an Obama watch list, and permanently bans immigration from Syria, another mostly Muslim country. Many mostly Muslim countries continue to send immigrants to America. To say, as the New York Times has repeatedly said in editorials, that the order “bans Muslims” is a flagrant misrepresentation that only incites religious intolerance.
Six. The Trump White House is still getting organized. Many officials have not been confirmed by the Congress and others have not been appointed. The executive order involving immigrants contained some mistakes (extending the ban to those with green cards, for example; not making exceptions for Iraqis who have materially assisted our troops is another) that reflect the inexperience of a new American administration. Time should cure this problem.
Seven. Those seeking entrance into the United States have no constitutional rights. They are not American citizens nor residents of this country. While it may be “un-American” to bar a foreigner based on their belief in a religion that is not contrary to our Constitution, it is not in violation of that Constitution nor, I believe, a violation of any of our laws.
Eight. While the president’s actions have certainly sent a big “unwelcome” sign over our borders, and have probably disrupted the plans of thousands if not tens of thousands of people across the globe, relatively few people were directly detained or sent home by the order, under a few hundred, I believe. Courts are sorting out some individual cases, as they should. Ironically, although Trump vowed to pursue “America First” in his inaugural, his family business is very international.
Nine. Many Americans believe that continuing the Obama immigration policies will increase terrorist attacks in our country. Some of our recent mass shootings were conducted by Muslim Americans who had been radicalized overseas. It is unclear whether restricting immigration will reduce the threat of domestic terrorism, and many diplomats overseas think that restricting immigration may in fact increase terrorism. A recent poll showed that 49 percent of Americans support Trump’s executive order.
Ten. The immigration situation across the globe is a mess, and is likely to get worse. Fighting and political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa have put millions of people on the move to try and save their families. Europe is at the breaking point in its efforts to accommodate refugees. Climate change and population growth are likely to make this trend worse over the coming century. The world needs to find a better way to handle the rising tide of refugees by addressing the problem at its source.
Now I’m sure that others could cite other facts that might lead to other conclusions, but for me these facts lead to this: The president is entitled to some time to carry out the promises of his winning campaign; that a pause in immigration policy is supported by at least half of all Americans; that the effectiveness of the Trump policies in reducing the threat of domestic terrorism is hard to determine; that the courts will protect the interests of those wrongly affected by American policies; and that Congress may if it wishes restrict the discretion of the President in this area.
One final thought, which is opinion, not fact. It is pretty clear to me that the world will not advance if countries pull back inside their borders. Young people in particular want an international world. At the same time, many Americans are nervous about this internationalism and the economic and social consequences that come with it, and their candidate won the White House. In the long run of American history this appears to be a time when the people want a reset of our foreign engagement before continuing the march toward a single, multicultural nation and world.
John (‘’Josh’’) H. Fitzhugh is a Vermont farmer, retired insurance executive, lawyer and former journalist. He served as chief counsel to two Vermont governors – Richard Snelling, a Republican, and Howard Dean, a Democrat.