Lecture examines travel ban

by Julian Nathan | 2/7/17 2:10am

Monday night, the Roth Center for Jewish Life hosted a lecture called “Security and Freedom in the 21st Century: The Trump Executive Order on Immigration and Refugees.” The lecture featured four guest speakers and gave audience members the opportunity to ask various questions about President Donald Trump’s recent executive order, which calls for a temporary ban on most immigration to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The first of the four speakers to address the audience was the College’s Office of Visa and Immigration Services director Susan Ellison. The other speakers present were associate director and advisor to international undergraduate students Marcia Calloway, director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding Daniel Benjamin and Iman Hammad ’17.

In her opening remarks, Ellison first explained some nuances of the executive order to the audience. She said that government officials have clarified that the executive order should not affect U.S. green card holders, those holding certain diplomatic visas and dual-citizens who hold a passport issued by a country not impacted by the order. She noted that her office has reached out to students who might be affected by the order and has directed these students to exercise caution while traveling. Ellison also voiced concerns that the list of countries affected by the ban might be expanded beyond the original seven.

Benjamin began his address to the audience by criticizing the order’s stated intent to improve national security.

“This order has nothing to do with counterterrorism,” he said.

Benjamin, who served as ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department prior to joining the Dickey Center, said that most counterterrorism experts agree with his assessment. He explained that since the 9/11 attacks, non-citizens and non-green card holders from the seven affected countries have not been implicated in any acts of terror on U.S. soil. He characterized the executive order as “profoundly harmful” to national counterterrorism missions, as enemies of the state might view restricting immigration to the United States as a hostile act.

Benjamin explained that, in his view, the executive order fuses people’s fears of terrorism with their xenophobic concerns of “the browning of America.”

In regards to the executive order’s call to suspend the entry of Syrian refugees to the United States until “sufficient changes” have been made to screening procedures, Benjamin expressed his view that Syrian refugees were already subject to enough scrutiny under current procedures. He noted that refugees often spend years waiting for U.S. officials to approve their visa requests.

After an audience member asked about legal objections to the executive order that might be addressed by the courts, Ellison explained that Trump’s executive order relies on a provision of the Constitution that allows presidents to restrict immigration for certain individuals. She said that, to the best of her knowledge, most constitutional objections to the order allege that it infringes upon due process rights or that it amounts to religious discrimination. Benjamin noted that of the approximately 220 million people currently affected by the order, approximately 97 percent are Muslim.

Benjamin said that the provision of the Constitution that gives presidents the right to restrict immigration has never before been applied so broadly as to give the President the right to restrict immigration from an entire group on the basis of national origin.

Calloway said that in order to effectively justify the ban, the Trump administration might have to show that previous vetting procedures were inefficient.

When asked about the possibility that Trump might issue future executive orders further restricting immigration, Ellison said that unofficial drafts of potential executive orders are circulating among immigration experts. She explained that she would not be surprised if Trump targeted other visa categories that facilitate travel for international professionals, students enrolled in certain training programs and participants in certain exchange programs.

Hanmad said though she was not directly affected by the executive order, she has been the target of discrimination because she is a Muslim. She explained her belief that the executive order victimizes two groups of people: potential immigrants to the United States and the American people. She said that the American people are victims of the executive order because they are being lied to. She added that the order contradicts American ideals of freedom and diversity. Though she proposed that the order might embolden some Americans to openly discriminate against Muslims more, she said she felt strong support from empathetic friends and from the Dartmouth campus community.