In 1939, the German ship St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana. There, only a handful of passengers were allowed to disembark. The St. Louis then began to sail along the coast of Florida within sight of the lights of Miami. U.S. officials, however, refused requests from passengers to disembark and the ship returned to Europe. Consequently, 254 of the 937 passengers (mostly Jewish) were murdered in the Holocaust. After World War II, the U.S. went on to develop one of the most advanced and rigorous refugee resettlement programs in the world.
Fast-forward to 2017. January 27 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and honors the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. On January 27, 2017, however, President Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting the U.S. refugee resettlement program—one of the most important refugee resettlement programs in the world, according to UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.
What is happening? Within days of his January 20, 2017 inauguration, President Trump is quickly following through on some of his campaign promises. The January 27 executive order was only the latest. On January 25, he issued two executive orders on immigration. While these executive orders will severely impact millions of immigrants and their families, they will also result in negative ramifications for the broader population and economy—in local places nationally and internationally. Furthermore, much of the actions these orders call for are contradicted by decades of empirical research and evidence.
The “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals” executive order, which Trump signed on the afternoon of Friday, January 27, begins by invoking the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and immediately bars all refugees from entering the U.S. for at least 120 days. It also bans entry for at least 90 days for anyone from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This applies to all immigrants and nonimmigrant visa holders, legal permanent residents (“green card” holders), dual citizens, and refugees. Interestingly, this list excludes other majority-Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which were the origin of many of the 9/11 hijackers, yet are also places where the Trump Organization, from which President Trump has not severed ties, has previously conducted or has sought to conduct business.
The impact of this executive order was felt immediately around the world as refugees and other travelers were held upon arrival at U.S. airports or were not allowed to board U.S.-bound flights. The situation is still unfolding, but many individuals and families with long ties to communities in the U.S. are impacted by this order. Take, for example, Nazanin Zinouri, a recent graduate of Clemson University’s Industrial Engineering PhD program, who was visiting family in Iran and has now been unable to return to the U.S. And then there’s Kaveh Daneshvar, who, according to Nature, “was thrilled when he was invited to speak at a molecular biology meeting next month in Banff, Canada. Daneshvar, a molecular geneticist, is finishing a postdoc at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and preparing to go on the job market. He hoped that the conference talk would give him much-needed exposure to leaders in his field. But that now seems impossible: if Daneshvar, an Iranian citizen, leaves the country, he may not be able to return.” Other people are also now left in limbo, including Hassan Taki Edin, a senior from Syria at the University of Evansville, in Indiana; Suha Abushama, an internal medicine resident at the Cleveland Clinic; Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of the Academy Award nominated film, The Salesman; contractors who worked with the U.S. military in Iraq; refugees who have already been vetted through the extensive and rigorous refugee resettlement program; and many others. As Dylan Matthews, writing for Vox put it, this is “a ban so wide in scope that it prevents as many as 500,000 green-card holders from either leaving America, or coming back if they’re now abroad. These are people who have made America their permanent home, now subjected to travel restrictions of a kind last experienced in America by Japanese-Americans during World War II.”
On the evening of January 28, a federal judge issued an emergency stay blocking the order for individuals who had already arrived to the U.S. This means that persons who had arrived to U.S. ports of entry at the time the order was going into effect should not be impacted by the order. However, on Sunday, it became evident that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials were not uniformly abiding by the judge’s stay, with some ignoring it and blocking attorneys from speaking with lawful permanent residents. Also on Sunday, apparently some White House officials were backpedaling whether the executive order actually applies to legal permanent residents, including White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. However, in an afternoon statement, President Trump appeared to double-down on his actions. As stated, the situation is still in flux and there are many questions. Indeed, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a joint statement on Sunday questioning the executive order:
“Our government has a responsibility to defend our borders, but we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation. It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. Such a hasty process risks harmful results. We should not stop green-card holders from returning to the country they call home. We should not stop those who have served as interpreters for our military and diplomats from seeking refuge in the country they risked their lives to help. And we should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation, and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children. Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
More broadly, however, the executive order reads as if it were not written with input by competent counsel. As Benjamin Wittes with the Brookings Institution notes, “it is most emphatically not good news to have a White House that just makes decisions with no serious thought or interagency input into what those decisions might mean. In fact, it’s really dangerous.” Furthermore, the premise for this order is not based on evidence. For instance, the odds of someone dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born person on U.S. soil from 1975 through 2015 were 1 in 3.6 million, according to Alex Nowrasteh at the libertarian Cato Institute; comparatively, the chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year and 1 in 10.9 billion for an attack caused by an undocumented immigrant. For comparison, the chances of being killed in the U.S. by gun homicide or in a car crash are each approximately 10.3 per 100,000.
The “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” executive order, which Trump signed on January 25, calls for expanding enforcement priorities throughout the U.S. and makes all undocumented persons in the U.S. an enforcement priority regardless of whether or not they actually have a criminal record. This aspect of the order is based on the false premise that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than the native-born when in reality the opposite is true.
Reams of research accumulated over the past century finds that higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates. Additionally, the order seeks to revive the Secure Communities program and punish “sanctuary cities” by cutting their federal funding. Sanctuary cities tend to have less crime than non-sanctuary cities. A recent study by Tom Wong at the University of California-San Diego found “there are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties.” Furthermore, punishing sanctuary cities by cutting off federal funding would harm local economies in the very places that are the drivers of regional economies. Indeed, the activities contained within cities and metropolitan areas collectively are the fundamental drivers of the U.S. economy. The American Immigration Council summarizes the major flaws in this executive order in that “no consideration is given to the financial costs of new enforcement measures, the social costs of tearing apart U.S. families and communities in order to deport non-violent individuals, and the undermining of community policing by turning police into immigration agents.”
The “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement” executive order addresses Trump’s promise to build an “impenetrable physical wall on the southern border,” which is nearly 2,000 miles long. The order also calls for increased resources for the Border Patrol as well as provisions that would diminish due process along the border. The order is based on the myth that hoards of migrants are flooding across the border. In reality, net migration from Mexico is near zero, and in recent years more Mexicans have been moving from the U.S. to Mexico than the other way around, according to the Pew Research Center. The items set forth in this executive order are also costly and would require tens of billions in funding. One estimate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that the cost of building a wall to Trump’s specifications would be between $27 and $40 billion dollars; it would also cause ecological and environmental damage. To put such costs into perspective, the 2016 budget of the entire National Park Service, which administers over 400 parks nationwide, was around $3 billion, the 2016 budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was $18.5 billion, and the 2016 Corporation for Public Broadcasting budget was $445 million.
Although Trump’s campaign promises included forcing Mexico to pay for the wall, in reality there is no pragmatic way for him to make that happen. Already, alternative plans from the Administration and from House Republicans include an appropriations bill or imposing a 20 percent import tax on all goods from Mexico. Such schemes would shift the costs of building the wall onto U.S. taxpayers—a population that Mr. Trump essentially admitted he is not a member of during one of the presidential debates—and consumers. Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner and many goods, products, components of products, and food and agricultural items consumed in the U.S. are produced in Mexico.
Ultimately, these three executive orders and their disastrous consequences add up to a staggering human and fiscal cost to further a perspective and ideology not based on research and empirical evidence, but based on fear, intimidation, and misinformation. We need only look to history to observe countless atrocities that have unfolded due to the peddling of such perspectives. These executive orders derive from an enforcement-only approach shown to be costly—in both human and fiscal terms—in the past, as well as ineffective, and morally bankrupt.