Donald Trump's speech yesterday on the threat of radical Islam included a section about immigration policy that has the usual suspects in a tizzy. This section focused not on terrorism, but rather on what Andy McCarthy calls the "grand jihad," the importation of Islamist ideology that rejects our constitutional order and open society.
In his trademark manner, Trump departed from the prepared text to Archie Bunker-ize the speech by calling this "extreme vetting," which is not the phraseology you should use once you've won the nomination and are trying to persuade the middle-of-the-road voter in Ohio and Florida. But rather than calling for body-cavity searches, as this label might suggest, he was instead calling for ideological/values screening, with the commonsense goal that "we should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people." He explained:
In addition to screening out all members or sympathizers of terrorist groups, we must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles — or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.
Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country.
It takes an Ivy League education to object to using our borders to keep out Jew-haters, gay-killers, and apostate-stoners. And, sure enough, in the Washington Post, Politico, and elsewhere, a passel of experts tells us that this is crazy, illegal, unconstitutional, and various other adjectives.
Questions about the practical implementation of such a proposal are legitimate, if overblown. Trump obviously didn't go into detail about the specific bureaucratic means of trying to screen out enemies of our constitutional order, but there are a number of ways to go about it. The first thing to keep in mind is that Trump's speech referred to immigrants, not visitors, who are much more numerous. As I wrote in December, if a tourist from Saudi Arabia or business traveler from Pakistan think it's good to behead blasphemers, that doesn't really matter to us because they're just passing through and not joining our society. But people being granted permanent residence — or even long-term "temporary" status, such as foreign students or H-1B workers — are joining our society, and we have a responsibility to keep them out if they reject our basic values.
Any screening would use lowest-common-denominator issues, which do in fact exist, despite the discord among us. This isn't about gay "marriage" or abortion or gun laws. The AP's preview story on the speech erred in referring to this as a "political" test for immigration, as though the goal were to screen out Democrats. Rather, it's about screening for the preconditions of a liberal society — freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equality of the sexes.
How to do this? Maybe, instead of quizzing applicants, the easiest way would be to prepare a bare-bones statement of values and have people sign it as a precondition of getting their visa. The provisions of such a contract would have to be simple and to-the-point: "I believe in the legal equality of men and women." "I believe that people are free to follow or leave any religion they choose, or follow no religion at all." "I believe that people have the right to criticize prophets and other religious figures, even if that criticism is unfair or incorrect."
Would people lie? Sure. But it's still worth doing. First, not everyone will lie — a non-trivial number of people considering immigration will look over the contract (it should be translated into at least as many languages as the citizenship test study guide is in) and decide that America is not for them.
What's more, it will put in black and white our rejection of Islamic supremacism. That may upset some of our "allies," but that's too bad. We're not allied with, say, Saudi Arabia because we share its values. Our relationship is more of a side-with-Stalin-against-Hitler kind of thing, a view they themselves share. We shouldn't be letting enemies of liberty come to live among us just because stopping them might anger a primitive on the other side of the world.
If Trump would stop shooting himself in the foot for a minute he could use this issue effectively against Bill Clinton's wife: "Tell us, Mrs. Clinton, do you think people from overseas who cheer the killing of gays should be welcomed into American society? Should foreigners who applaud the beheading of blasphemers — even if they'd prefer to leave the actual beheading to someone else — be allowed to move into our communities?" What could she say?
A final point: Trump almost never talks about immigration numbers, but the radical Islam speech did mention it. He said:
We admit about 100,000 permanent immigrants from the Middle East every year. Beyond that, we admit hundreds of thousands of temporary workers and visitors from the same regions — hundreds of thousands. If we don't control the numbers, we can't perform adequate screening.