Considerations on "Travel Bans", Extreme Vetting, and Terror

By Dan Cadman on December 13, 2017

Two very different stories that came out during the same news cycle have had me reflecting on the comparisons and juxtapositions between the two:

"Trump Sued By Refugees In Calif. Court Over 3rd Travel Ban", published by Law360 (partially behind a paywall); and

"Bomber Strikes Near Times Square, Disrupting City but Killing None", published by the New York Times.

The first story tells us that, once again, a group of cherry-picked and sympathetic plaintiffs, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other migrant advocacy groups, has filed suit in a U.S. District Court in California seeking to have the Trump administration's "Travel Ban Version 3.0" enjoined, despite the Supreme Court having recently ruled in favor of the unfettered implementation of the executive order, at least pending full review by that court.

Readers will recall that, in its third iteration, the so-called "ban" (which might better be described as a "go-slow/be sure" directive to consular officers and federal immigration officials who adjudicate visas and benefits applications) now consists of eight countries, including two that are distinctly non-Muslim. The nations, in alphabetical order, are Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. My reactions to this story are twofold:

First: How is it that district court judges all over the country, who may be powerful in their own right, but who are at the bottom of the federal judicial totem, are not quite getting the message that it is time to step back, take a deep breath, and let things work their course according to the constitutional design? Why would they not, at this point, just dismiss the complaint out of hand or, at minimum, hold it in abeyance pending that Supreme Court review?

Second: Those opposed to the ban, claiming it violates religious freedom and discriminates against Muslims, say that addition of North Korea and Venezuela was a smokescreen to obfuscate the discrimination. But this seems to me a facile interpretation since it presupposes that all Muslims are alike, which is a preposterous notion. In addition to war against Jews, Christians, and the infidel West generally, strident Muslims are at war with one another.

Shia fight against Sunni, each routinely engaging in outrages such as bombing one another's mosques during prayers when they are full of worshipers — do a Google search for "shia mosque bombing" and "sunni mosque bombing" and you'll see what I mean.

Both also often engage in such outrages against other lesser sects of Islam, such as Sufis, not to mention engaging in terrorism, war crimes, and human rights abuses against Yazidis (who are not Muslims), as well as Coptic and Syriac Christians, who have lived in the Middle East and Arab world for hundreds and hundreds of years (see here and here).

The common denominator, from a homeland security perspective, is how well consular and immigration officers will be able to vet applicants for entry into the United States.

Clearly, the quality of vetting will not go well for individuals whose nations are theaters of war — especially where many government offices have been overrun and passports and identity documents have been compromised beyond acceptability, such as in Somalia, Syria, and Yemen (site of a nasty proxy war between mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia and mostly Shia Iran). Nor will it likely work well in completely failed nations still suffering from ineffectual central governments and plagued with warlords and violent militias, such as Chad, Libya, and Somalia. Finally, it will also unlikely work well in countries where the regime is actively hostile to American interests, such as Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have the entire eight nations that appear on the most recent list.

But this brings me to back to the second item in that news cycle: Akayed Ullah, the Bangladeshi who bungled his attempt at a Christmas terrorist outrage in New York City, and who came courtesy of a toxic mix of the visa lottery and chain migration (see here and here).

You will notice that Bangladesh is not on the travel ban list of infamy. Some opponents of the ban have used such logic to argue against it, not realizing that in a way they themselves are giving credence to those who have suggested that the problem is Islam, not the countries where it is practiced. I don't think a recognition that terrorists will come from a host of different countries vitiates the logic that the administration has used in promulgating the president's executive order, in any of its variations. Any diminution of the risk is better than no attempt whatever. But it behooves us to recognize that there is a larger issue at play as well, one that transcends national boundaries. It has to do with beliefs that do transcend Muslim sects: that Sharia (Islamic law) is the fount of all government and law, admitting no concept of a civil society in which all religions coexist equally under the law, and that jihad is a struggle to make Islam preeminent in all countries, in no small measure to ensure that Sharia can be adopted.

Not all Muslims believe in Sharia and jihad so literally as do violent Islamists, or even those who believe that through aggressively peaceful means such as migration they can fundamentally change the nature of the society where they reside. And therein lies the challenge for our society and our government.

How do we make room in a civil society — one with such freedom that many of our citizens live lifestyles that shock the cultural norms and attitudes of Muslims coming from essentially conservative Islamic societies — for those who can and will adapt at least so far as to allow for coexistence of others not of their way of thinking? And how can our government do a better job of distinguishing among and between the likely successes and those who cannot or will not bridge the gap and may in fact come believing in, or relapse into, violent jihad as a form of rejection upon their arrival?

I certainly don't have all of the answers, but I do know that one of them is to amend our legal immigration system to eliminate the visa lottery and burdensome, overweening chain migration policies. They make us less safe, and at the same time create significant pressures on our social benefits safety net, our economy, and our jobs.

And if our government isn't given the opportunity to work through this process of sorting wheat from chaff where applicants for entry are concerned — including curbs on immigration from the most terror-fraught areas of the globe and so-called "extreme vetting" — without being stymied by constant legal assaults on its efforts to keep the American people safe, then there will be many more tragedies in our future, because not all would-be terrorists will prove themselves to be as inept as Akayed Ullah.