The executive order signed by President Donald Trump at the Defense Department last Friday, which suspends America’s refugee program and implements a temporary ban on travelers from seven nations, has caused consternation, confusion, angst anxiety, and anger around the world. This is especially true of people in high-risk countries who are desperately trying to get themselves and their families out of the hellholes they live in.
This Saturday, two Iraqis — one of whom worked with American soldiers in Iraq for ten years and another whose wife was involved with the U.S. military in Iraq — were detained by agents when they flew into JFK International Airport in New York. Security agents treated both men to secondary screening and denied them access to their immigration lawyers. It took the intervention of two members of Congress, a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, a crowd of protesters outside the airport, and hours of media attention for both of the men to be released.
Most of the refugees and visa holders attempting to enter the United States won’t have that luxury.
As of now, federal courts in four jurisdictions have placed stays on the Trump administration’s executive order pending further explanation from the government. But to be perfectly fair, there are many people in the United States who don’t necessarily disagree with what Trump did. Plenty of Americans sincerely believe that refugees from the Middle East and Africa pose a direct threat to American security. Given what’s been happening in Western Europe over the past year and a half, it’s difficult not to sympathize with that concern. Nobody wants a terrorist from ISIS or al-Qaeda taking advantage of America’s refugee system to mount an attack. It’s that scenario that President Trump had in mind when he signed the order.
But if the administration wants to limit the bad press they are receiving from all quarters of the media outside of Breitbart, they should seriously consider tweaking the implementation of the policy. The order, for instance, provides the secretary of state and secretary of homeland security with the power to admit refugees and visa holders on a case-by-case basis “when in the national interest.” That is a small but important opening that the Trump administration should use, not only for its own political advantage, but for reasons pertaining directly to U.S. national security.
If there was ever a group of people that should be afforded an exception, it is the Iraqis and Afghans who have worked closely with U.S. soldiers over the last 15 years as translators. Countless Iraqis and Afghans have been killed by insurgents for simply assisting coalition forces. Some have even been targeted as they were waiting for the special immigrant visas that were promised to them.
There is no reason that President Trump can’t delegate the power to exempt these men and women from the temporary immigration shutdown to his secretary of state and secretary of homeland security.
Indeed, doing so is not only the right thing (as Secretary of Defense James Mattis said during his confirmation hearing, America is a country that keeps her word), but a strategically important move that would reassure translators their work in the field is valued. A lack of such cooperation will inevitably result in a dearth of knowledge that could cost the lives of U.S. soldiers who may no longer know where that IED is located, where those militants are storing weapons, or which tribe or militia group is reliable.
Trump’s temporary suspension of refugees and travelers from certain countries is now effectively the law of the land. But that doesn’t mean that Trump can’t take a win-win opportunity when it presents itself.