TSG IntelBrief: A Revised Executive Order
March 7, 2017
Bottom Line Up Front:
• On March 6, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order pertaining to visa issuance and refugee entry into the United States.
• The new executive order drops Iraq from the list of banned countries, and no longer bars permanent lawful residents and those possessing a valid visa as of January 27, 2017.
• As with the initial order, the new ban ignores the extensive and lengthy approval processes already in place for visa issuance from the remaining six banned countries.
• A recent Department of Homeland Security intelligence assessment that had been ordered in an effort to find cause for the new order actually found the opposite—that citizenship is a poor indicator of terrorist intent.
On March 6, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order entitled ‘Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States’. The new order has numerous substantive changes from the original, yet operates under the same flawed assumptions. One of the more glaring and counterproductive issues with the original executive order was the high-profile banning of all Iraqi visa travel to the United States at the same moment as the U.S. is deeply partnered with Iraqi forces in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. The insult of the original order to the Iraqis fighting and dying as part of the U.S.-led coalition combating the Islamic State is impossible to overstate. The new order removes Iraq from the list, but maintains the restrictions on Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Unlike the high-profile signing of the first executive order, there was no public signing of the revised version. Several cabinet secretaries—the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Attorney General—made brief statements saying that the unregulated entry of non-vetted individuals into the United States is not a right, and that this executive order was needed to ensure national security. The notion that foreign individuals are obtaining U.S. visas—particularly from these six countries—without intense scrutiny is false. As with the original executive order, the ban is a solution in search of a problem, with the addition of insulting potential partners without any tangible gain.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence assessment—ordered with the intention of bolstering the Trump administration’s claim that foreign-born visitors, immigrants, and refugees posed a significant enough threat to justify the wholesale banning of countries—was leaked last week. Indeed, the report found just the opposite. The DHS assessment stated in its first key finding that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The report also found that the majority of foreign-born violent extremists in the U.S. did not arrive in the country radicalized, but became radicalized after living in the U.S. for several years.
Indeed, the issue of terrorism in the United States—particularly in terms of the discourse surrounding immigration and refugee policies—has been far more of a political instrument than a statistical debate grounded in facts. While concerns over thorough and proper vetting procedures for countries embroiled in conflict are valid, banning entire nationalities is a far cry from realistic and effective enhancement of vetting processes.
The new executive order also conflates the refugee situation in the United States—which involves a two-year, highly regulated admittance process—with the far different refugee situation the EU is currently facing. Even more so than with visa holders, refugees represent a very minor risk in terms of terrorism in the United States, with so-called homegrown terrorism a far more serious threat. The reality that people radicalize inside the U.S.—highlighted by the leaked DHS report—is not reflected in the new executive order. Despite the revisions, the new order again seeks to externalize a very real but manageable threat, which—at least in the U.S.—is primarily internal in nature.
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