On Friday 27 January 2017, United States President Donald Trump signed an immigration ban that halted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — for 90 days. However, this ban introduced many more amendments than just that. The ban incorporated a four-month suspension of the U.S. Refugee Program to allow for a review and, purportedly, ultimate improvement of the vetting process for visa applicants. Additionally, the Executive Order reduced the overall number of refugees allowed into the United States from 110,000 to 50,000 people per year. As a result, thousands of refugees were detained at airports across the United States, forbidden to enter into the country, and thousands more who were on their way to the U.S. under various refugee programs have found themselves stranded overseas, primarily in European countries. Both across the United States and externally, protests rose up in dissent towards the actions of President Trump, but a closer look at the statistics tells a different story.
Americans are polarised over the actions of President Trump. Despite the widely covered protests and prominent dissenting voices, only 51 per cent of Americans are polled as disagreeing with President Trump’s ban. Breaking down those numbers into political parties, 85 per cent of Republicans are seen to approve of the measure, whilst, on the other side of the political divide, 85 per cent of Democrats disapprove.
As a condition for resumption of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, the Executive Order envisages a re-evaluation of the vetting process for refugees. What might this mean? One of the criteria of this re-evaluation mandates the ‘prioritiz[ation of] refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.’ Media and prominent Trump critics have interpreted this specific prioritisation as preferential treatment for Christian refugees. As a result, this particular clause has caused some unrest within the United States, with the media branding the Executive Order as an ‘anti-Muslim’ ban. To that, 87 per cent of American Christians — in terms of political party affiliation, 92 per cent of Democrats, 75 per cent of independents, and 55 per cent of Republicans — responded negatively, believing that religion should play no preference regarding the treatment of refugees.
In response to these claims, Trump stated: ‘To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting [. …] This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. […] There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.’
Over the past weeks, the legality of Trump’s ban has been frequently called into question. Just over half — 57 per cent — of Americans view the ban as a direct contradiction of the founding principles of their country. When broken down into political parties, however, roughly seven out of 10 Republicans believe the ban should be allowed, whereas eight in 10 Democrats strongly disagree with it. Interestingly, however, when putting the ban into action, President Trump cited his predecessor Barrack Obama’s 2011 Iraq immigration pause as a past precedent. ‘My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months,’ he said. ‘The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.’
Regarding the actual usefulness of the ban as a counter-measure against terrorism, the public is split once again: a third of Americans believe the ban will be useful, whilst another third believe it will be counter-productive. Many other countries are also warning that the ban will have strongly adverse results, leading to a fallout between Iraq and the United States, with a potential severely negative impact on the West’s fight against ISIS. The road down this dangerous path was clearly illustrated in the statement by the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘that the Iraqi government is considering banning all American passport holders entry to the country.’
Closer to home for Trump, dissent has even been expressed by those within his own party. Nebraskan Republican Senator Ben Sasse worries that Trump’s Executive Order sends the wrong message to the Middle Eastern countries, arguing that: ‘If we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion.’
President Trump’s first recorded job approval rating — 40 per cent according to CBS News’s Poll — is at an all time low for presidents beginning their term. This marks the first time since 1953 that over half of the U.S.’s population disagrees with the President’s actions. Externally, the United States’ global approval ratings are also falling.
Critics of Trump and those worried about the future of the United States can take heart in the strong democracy that was artfully constructed by the U.S.’s Founding Fathers, which has an effective distribution of power among the three branches of government, with a robust system of checks and balances. Less than a week after Trump signed his Executive Order, a federal district court judge in the state of Washington issued an order barring the U.S. government from enforcing many, though not all, of the provisions of the order. The U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security were compelled to immediately halt the provisions of Trump’s order related to visa suspensions and to begin processing refugee visas again immediately. The International Organization for Migration, one of the world’s leading global NGOs in the area of refugee assistance, began rebooking refugees for onward travel to the U.S.
The tussle between Trump’s administration and the Judicial Branch could be headed for the Supreme Court. Regardless of how this particular issue is eventually resolved, it seems clear that President Trump is determined to deliver on his campaign promises. It is equally clear that at every step along the way, his actions will be scrutinised and sometimes checked by the well-developed civil society (think-tanks, NGOs, foundations, religious institutions, educational institutions, and more) that characterises the United States and the transparent American system of democracy. What is not clear is if and how Trump means to deliver on the promise that he made, in both his election victory speech and his inauguration address, to be a president for all American citizens.