By Alireza Eshraghi | February 1, 2018
President Trump, shortly after announcing the new travel restrictions, tweeted that "Making America safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet". The key question is that whether the proposed policy will result in actually making the U.S. any safer.
In total, ten countries have been included in three iterations of Travel Ban orders. The latest one restricts travel from Chad, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Based on the specific countries that have been included in all three versions, this order would not have prevented any single death from a jihadist attack in the U.S. since 9/11, nor would have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Of the 19 men involved in the 2001 attacks, 15 were Saudis, 2 of them from United Arab Emirates, one Egyptian, and one from Lebanon.
Considering the catastrophic number of deaths caused by this attack, it has become influential in Americans' view toward the nature of terrorism. Even though President Trump cites this incident as a prime example for necessity of travel ban, none of the countries listed in all three versions of travel ban were involved in this attack. Furthermore, if we evaluate all deadly terroristic violence that happened inside the U.S. since 9/11, none of those 10 countries have been involved. Since 9/11, 13 terrorists committed an act of deadly violence inside the U.S. which have been directly linked to jihadist ideology. None out of 13 came from any of those 10 countries. More interestingly, all 13 were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residences, and 8 of them were U.S. born citizens.
Even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reported in early 2017 that citizens of 7 countries included in the original travel ban were "rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism". The general outcome of this report is unlikely to change considering the new countries that have been added to the third version including Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. On the other hand, examining more historical data shows that no American has been killed on the U.S. soil since 1975 by a citizen of one of the eight countries in the latest version of travel ban.
The other point regarding this ban is the vetting process itself. A recent report by Brennan Center shows that the U.S. currently has one of the most extreme vetting process in the world. That stringent visa vetting system may explain in part why there was not any fatal terrorist attack on the U.S. land carried out by a foreigner since 9/11. The U.S. visa process requires the applicant to provide extensive biographical information which includes "details of previous passports, family members, places of employment, and residences, as well as their travel history". The U.S. Consulate Office then checks the provided information by the applicant against a wide range of government and international datasets. These data sets include classified information which the consular uses to verify the applicant identity and determine whether the applicant has any security risk.
This process can take months. Based on this extreme vetting process that currently is running, several federal courts said they are not convinced with the Trump’s administration’s claim that the country needs banning travel from certain countries. As one of the federal courts said in their appeals for blocking the earlier version of the ban, "There is no finding that present vetting standards are inadequate, and no finding that absent the improved vetting procedures there likely will be harm to our national interests".
This order not only does not make America any safer, but it has huge negative effects on the U.S. world image. Former Obama Administration Immigration Chief John Sandweg warns about this policy right after the second version was announced. "This sends the wrong message without actually making us safer. By just barring nationals of those countries from the U.S. sends a big message to the world that we're anti-Muslim without enhancing our actual security interests or incentivizing those countries further to fix things". May some pro travel ban argue that the third version is not a Muslim ban anymore since it includes Venezuela and North Korea. However, as Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the US — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn't obfuscate the real fact that the administration's order is still a Muslim ban. President Trump's original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list".
The other problem with this policy is its negative impact on economy and industries.
Technology companies such as Microsoft and Intel are among those who want to stop this ban. Also based on the statistics, economy is losing billions in the tourism sector regarding this policy. Data shows that the number of visitors dropped by 1.3% following the first iteration of the ban and the second one caused 2.8% drop. Generally, the total U.S. arrival decreased by 1.4% since Jan 1. This number has been increased by 4.6% globally. These small percentages become important when we evaluate this trillion-dollar industry. The truism industry represents 2.7% of overall U.S. GDP.
The implementation of blanket travel bans causes many problems, without solving any. For solving a problem, the first and the most important step is to fully understand it, something the Trump Administration seems unwilling to do. In imposing a blanket policy with little research or understanding of this complex issue, it seems that President Trump is blindly trying to meet his promises during his campaign, which includes "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out what the hell is going on". Overall, it is another chapter in an inept administration with little understanding, or respect for, the public policy process.
Ali Eshraghi is an MPP Candidate at the School of Global Policy and Strategy. His research interest lies in the interdisciplinary area of energy and environment. He also holds a M.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering..