WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Jan. 27, President Trump’s travel ban was enacted, and a series of protests spread throughout the nation. The executive order placed a temporary ban on U.S. entry for refugees from the following countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
President Trump’s administration indicated that these countries were originally identified by President Obama’s administration. The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 became part of Obama’s year-end spending bill that was signed into law in 2015. It received an overwhelming majority of 407 votes in the House of Representatives but faced resistance from prominent civil rights organizations.
On Feb. 18, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced three new additions to its “countries of concern” list: Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The Department of State (DOS) found that Iraq, Sudan and Syria have repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism.
Travel Bans in U.S. History
President Trump’s travel ban is not unique in history. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first significant law restricting immigration into the U.S. Although the Chinese community represented less than 0.1 percent of the population, Congress passed this law to address workers’ concerns about declining wages and racial purity. The Immigration Act of 1924 discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and Asia. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter banned Iranians from entering the U.S. after the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The U.S. population has been wary of welcoming refugees over the past couple of decades.
In 1939, the U.S. rejected the MS St. Louis, a German ship that contained Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. The State Department, FBI and President Franklin Roosevelt argued that refugees posed a serious threat to national security. Additionally, the media went along with the public’s fears about spies posing as refugees. After being forced to return to Europe, 254 members on the MS St. Louis died during the Holocaust.
The U.S. Vetting Process
Filippo Grandi, the head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), stated that “Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time.” A 2016 UNHCR report found that the world harbors more refugees now than it did post-World War II. In fact, the population of today’s displaced people matches the entire population of the U.K. Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia produce 54 percent of the world’s refugee population; Syria has the highest number of displaced people in the world.
The current U.S. vetting process is extremely rigorous. The New York Times described the stringent process that could take two years to allow a refugee entry into the U.S. Syrians are subject to additional layers of checks. Less than one percent of refugees make it past the first four steps of the screening process in their applications to resettle in the U.S. That one percent is then subject to an interview with the State Department, up to three background checks and three fingerprint screenings.
After an extensive interview with Homeland Security, they are screened for contagious diseases, required to attend a cultural orientation class and are matched with a resettlement agency. Before arriving in the U.S., they must undergo another thorough multi-agency security check. Upon arrival to the U.S., they undergo the last security check. In total, Syrian applicants must go through a 20-step vetting process before they are admitted to the U.S. In 2016, 75 percent of refugees who resettled in the U.S. were women or children.
Terrorism by the Numbers
President Trump’s travel ban has been touted as a policy designed to protect U.S. citizens. An empirical study by the Cato Institute discovered that the average chance of dying from a foreign-based act of terrorism in the U.S. from 1975 to 2015 was .00000003 percent. According to the study, refugees accepted to the U.S. have never been implicated in acts of terrorism since the creation of the Refugee Act of 1980.
This ban would not have prevented the attack in San Bernardino — Rizwan Farook was born in Chicago and Tashfeen Malik was raised in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Ahmad Kahn Rahimi, accused of orchestrating explosions in New York and New Jersey, was born in Afghanistan and spent time in Pakistan. Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, was a U.S. citizen whose parents were from Afghanistan. The Boston Marathon bombers were from Kyrgyzstan and their parents were from Chechnya. Of the 19 terrorists implicated in 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt and one was from Lebanon.
The Guardian reported that Americans are twice as likely to be shot dead by a toddler than to be killed by a terrorist. CNN highlighted a startling statistic from the Cato Institute: on average, nine people have been killed per year by Islamist extremists in the U.S. since 9/11; in comparison, 12,843 people are killed per year in the U.S. by gun violence. Statistics have not quelled American fears. Before President Trump’s travel ban was enacted, London-based think tank Chatham House found that 55 percent of people from ten European countries agreed with a travel ban policy. A poll by Quinnipiac discovered that close to half of Americans support President Trump’s travel ban today.
– Andy Jung