Again, Why the Travel Ban?
Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 9, 2017
Dahlia Lithwick, Slate Magazine’s legal correspondent, argued in a recent column that we are weary, too worn out by the torrent of abhorrent policy announcements from the White House to be able to protest much over the start of a travel ban aimed at six Muslim majority nations plus North Korea and Venezuela.
The legal arguments haven’t changed much since earlier, but sloppier versions of the same travel ban, drew sizable visible protests at the nation’s airports. Yes, the policies have been somewhat legally sanitized, but they still generally aim at keeping out refugees and even visitors from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
While she focused mostly on the worn legalisms involved, I think she’s onto something broader here, more about Trump fatigue than a failure to respond to a human rights issue. But there is a cumulative effect to day-after-day efforts that amount to an attack on the culture, customs and institutions that we have accepted. Over time, even the most fervent among anti-Trumpists find that they can’t actively protest tax policy in the morning, immigrant expulsions at night, environmental regulation destruction on the weekend and still find the oomph to protest travel ban 3.0.
It was in February that the first version of the ban was announced with haste and no preparation. Yet, unbidden, flash citizen protests popped up at airports across the country, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Wasington State slapped down the ban a week after Trump took office.
As Lithwick recounts, the interest was relatively riveting, with more than an average number of public questions being asked about all the details until the court found that the ban had trod on constitutional rights.
Almost a year later, a different court, also in the 9th Circuit, found against the Trump administration again, amidst more protests, this time in Hawaii.
As Lithwick explained, the current version, announced in September, targets 150 million travelers from those six Muslim-majority countries plus North Korea along with some Venezuelan government officials. Despite an initial block, the Supreme Court last week decided to let the ban stand temporarily until lower court cases make it to the Supreme Court.
Now apart from the legal arguments that will feel much like re-dipping a used tea bag to produce another cup. Inside the courtroom, Lithwick suggests that judges “apparently loathe the legal power-wash that has enabled this contemptible executive order and its contemptible defenders to stand before them once again and constantly repeat words like a fortiori, as though the casual deployment of arcane Latin might signal some form of analysis, or reason, or virtue, or lawfulness.” A fortiori means an argument made with greater reason or more convincing force.
Indeed, legally, there is no more reason to the newest travel ban order than there was for the first, and just repeating it louder and louder doesn’t make for good law.
But the drumbeat of repeated and continuing terrorism goes on as well, and each incident brings with it more willingness to try anything in the name of American safety.
Nevertheless, she argues, “We should all possibly care about travel ban 3.0 and its cretinous defenders a whole lot more than we apparently do, simply because it’s permanent, it’s nearly as bad as the original, and the Supreme Court appears inclined to tolerate it. Thousands of people will be harmed for no reason other than Donald Trump dislikes Muslim countries and crafted a nearly legal theory to achieve his ban after two abject failures.”
Written more broadly, there have issues with the Trump administration on environmental protection, on consumer protection, on spending priorities, on access to health care and women’s issues. I have problems with a government that has set aside ethical behavior in favor of running its own private businesses from the White House — however artful (or not) the dodge of giving reins of power to his sons. We have a president who cannot hear advise from friends, and whose approach with foes is to provoke towards military confrontation.
Dealing with it all is repetitious and fatiguing.
But the travel ban stands out as an example of a cruel move painted with a broad brush against people who are being punished because there is violence going on in their countries. Yemen faces famine and a cholera epidemic; must our official reaction be to keep civilians from getting out if their families can find the money to bring them here? We’re reading about serial rape in Chad and northern Africa at the hands of the Bako Haram rebels, and our government says our priority should be to keep Chad’s resident victims away? Is there any horror story affecting Syrian refugees that we have not heard inside the White House? How can the response just be No by the ordered ban?
There is something pretty basic here, even beyond showing heart. It has to do with considering individuals as individuals, who have extenuating circumstances. Sure, vet to your heart’s content, but summarily saying whole countries need not even ask for permission to come in?
This is to say nothing of the fact that Saudis are welcome to come into the United States, despite that country’s history of involvement in a wide variety of upheavals, violence and even 9/11. What about Bahrain, whom President Trump blames for financing terrorism? Its citizens are untouched by this travel ban. We let in Russians and Chinese, Pakistanis and Afghanis, residents of Myanmar and Lebanon, all of which have pockets of people who very much hate the United States.
Of all immigrants in the United States, about 2% tops may have come from the Middle East, with Iranians topping that group. Of those who settle here, surveys say they are employed and paying taxes, participating in society, not violent. Almost no one visits from North Korea, and the Venezuelans in question are all but named.
My point, as always, is that this administration does whatever it wants to do without considering the larger consequences, without reasoning, without humanity — all in the name of keeping American Safe, and maybe Great.
The travel ban comes up before the courts not for its human impact, but strictly on the question of whether the executive orders as written are being born within the lines of constitutional power of the presidency.
The silence on the rest is pretty ominous.