In this interview, immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk talks about the recent Trump executive orders on US immigration.
Andy, it’s been a bit of a busy week for immigration.
To say the least. Over the course of the last week, President Trump was very busy, signing three new executive orders on immigration.
The big announcements were his plans to go ahead with the wall at the Mexican border and to cut off funds for sanctuary cities. But these were nothing compared to the executive order that arrived on Friday. That one had a huge impact by blocking refugees from entering the US, as well as people from seven countries who had valid visas to enter the country – even if they were on an airplane headed to the United States at that very moment.
What were the specifics of the Trump executive order on refugees?
Among other things, the executive order suspended the entire US refugee program for 120 days, suspended the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, prevented US entry for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for a minimum of 90 days, and capped refugee resettlement numbers at 50,000 per year. The 90-day break is supposed to be used for a review of US immigration policy and how it relates to these Muslim-majority countries and refugees in general.
There have been protests at airports against the new policies, as well as a general negative reaction from other politicians and world leaders. Will any good come of this?
As with any change, people have strong reactions. Changes that have the word “Trump” attached to them come with a lightning rod. For instance, only a few weeks ago, President Obama ended the so-called “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban refugees. This happened with relatively little reaction outside of the Cuban-American population. Is that fair? No. But it’s the way it is.
Wet Foot, Dry Foot
The policy dictated that any Cuban who made it to American soil was home free for living in the US. Obama cancelled it at a stroke before leaving office. Now, Cubans are to be sent back to Cuba unless they can prove a fear of persecution. To which one might ask, who flees Cuba and then doesn’t expect trouble if they’re sent back? There are Cubans who are now stuck in Central America because they made it that far, but with the sudden end of wet foot, dry foot, they’re afraid to come to the US and be shipped back to Cuba. They’re marooned. I think this subject needs to be revisited right away.
As for the Middle East angle, there is a legitimate concern that bad actors can and do enter the United States posing as refugees. A few years ago, President Obama withheld Iraqi visas for six months, after it was discovered that two Iraqi al-Qaeda members were living in Kentucky as refugees. They were caught by the FBI and are now serving hard time in a US prison.
Presumably, Obama’s six month break on visas then is similar to Trump’s 90-day break now: it’s supposed to be used to improve vetting procedures. The key difference is that the Obama administration didn’t make the break widespread across seven countries and, crucially, didn’t announce the break on a Friday night and turn immigration policy upside down for anyone from those countries who already had a valid visa.
How about Trump decreasing the overall number of refugees?
This isn’t anything new, either. During President George W. Bush’s tenure, he allowed fewer refugees on average than Trump’s new proposed refugee limit of 50,000. In Canada, the refugee numbers also go up and down at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Look at Germany, where Merkel raised the limit sky high, then later said she was going to scale it back. So again, nothing new. But Trump’s execution of the directives and announcements has been so ham-fisted that it has caused him – and a lot of innocent people – big problems. Immigration has always been very political, but now it is extremely political. That isn’t good.
What should Trump have done differently?
For one, he needs to stop tweeting. Shooting from the lip on Twitter is a terrible way for politicians to communicate with people. Laws affect people’s lives and the lives of their children. Their futures are at stake. Announcements and directives need to be made clearly and precisely.
As for the policies themselves, what President Trump has accomplished so far with his executive orders is to overwhelm us with immigration changes by executive fiat. In my view, he has not sufficiently considered the broader consequences of his declarations. That is why the announcements were followed by chaos. It’s nothing to say, “No more visas for Iran,” but what about the patient coming to Boston for surgery tomorrow, or the mother attending her child’s wedding this weekend?
People’s lives aren’t trivial. They matter. If anything, Trump should have announced a deadline after which no visa would be printed for 90 days. At least people with imminent plans would not have been affected.
What should he do going forward?
Use his people. Trump is seeking to implement changes without sufficiently involving his implementing agencies. This is no doubt a byproduct of his lack of government experience. It’s easy to forget that he has never worked inside a functioning bureaucracy, ever. I suspect he’s using his advisors more than his cabinet. If he wants to talk about “extreme vetting,” he should have his orders vetted by Perry, Pence, and Haley, three former governors who know how governments operate. He should ask the head of Homeland Security, “What will happen if I do X? How can I do it better?”
But therein lies the problem. In a speech last year, Trump referenced his disdain for politicians and said that, “All they know how to do is get elected.” His initiatives demonstrate a lack of trust in those who work for him in government.
He undermines the confidence of a confused public with actions that have exacerbated public discourse on the subject of immigration, deepens divisions, and forces journalists to go out of their way to ensure the accuracy of every word they print in view of his lax standards when it comes to speaking the truth.
A more constructive approach would be to work with his newly elected colleagues in Congress to come up with a more refined and realistic plan everyone can get behind. We need to once and for all implement a new immigration policy that calibrates with the dangers and opportunities that face America. Hopefully he will learn a lesson from the past week and put that lesson to some good use.