Presidential Campaign

Donald Trump, here’s the ‘extreme vetting’ that’s already happening

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It’s hard to know where to start with GOP nominee Donald Trump’s proposal for “extreme vetting” of prospective entrants into the United States. The odious nature of demanding adherence to a particular set of views in order to gain admission to a country founded on freedom of speech? The impossibility of determining a person’s innermost beliefs and private opinions? The irony that Trump would be unlikely to pass his own tests of rejecting bigotry and hatred, and demonstrating respect for gay people, women and minorities?

Perhaps it’s simplest to begin with the fact that the United States already places exceptionally steep hurdles in front of those seeking to enter this country.

{mosads}Although Secretary of State John Kerry proudly announced that the United States had met its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, he didn’t say how long they had been waiting. The average hiatus is 18 to 24 months — and this counts only the lengthy and rigorous screening process that begins after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered, reviewed and referred for resettlement those who are found to be particularly vulnerable.

The U.S. government makes it no easier for Central Americans targeted by gang violence and extrajudicial killings to find refuge. The Obama administration has encouraged Mexican authorities to capture and deport women and children back to countries with some of the world’s highest murder rates. And the Justice Department has argued that children as young as 3 and 4 are old enough to represent themselves in immigration courts. In effect, children accused of violating immigration laws are denied the same right to court-appointed lawyers that is afforded to accused rapists and murderers under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.

Even those who enter the United States legally undergo extraordinary investigations and background checks before being granted asylum. Take Maikel Nabil, an Egyptian human rights activist, award-winning blogger and conscientious objector to compulsory military service whose trial and incarceration in Egypt was condemned by U.S. authorities. After Maikel visited Israel on a peace mission, Egyptian authorities charged him with treason — an offense that carries the death penalty. As a pacifist, atheist and campaigner for democratic values, Maikel should easily pass all security screens for admission into the United States.

Yet 21 months after submission, Maikel’s application for political asylum is still in limbo. As the ombudsman for the Department of Homeland Security reported to Congress in June 2016, there is a backlog of well over 100,000 asylum applications awaiting adjudication. Lengthening processing times are a “serious and pervasive issue,” with “background checks and other types of security screening that can last several years.” The average duration of a headquarters review — which happens after a recommendation for approval has been made — has risen from 182 days to 239 days in the last two years. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has secretly excluded those of Arab or Middle Eastern origin by “delaying and denying their applications without legal authority.”

The idea that America can be made safer through lengthier and more stringent vetting of prospective immigrants, refugees and asylees flies in the face of all available evidence. Immigrants, legal or otherwise, are less likely than native-born Americans to commit violent crimes. Trump’s claim that illegal immigrants are responsible for a crime wave in the United States has been thoroughly debunked

What few are talking about is the damage that is done to American values, U.S. credibility and, yes, national security by making it harder for people to escape persecution. Do we recall the turning away of the MS St. Louis, filled with Jewish passengers driven out by the Third Reich, with pride and satisfaction? Does our deportation of Central Americans fleeing violence help us convince Europeans and others to take in Syrians fleeing violence? Does a world in which millions of refugees live in misery and squalor, preyed upon by criminal networks and human traffickers, and shut out of countries who claim to stand for rights and freedom, make us safer?

The facts may not matter to Donald Trump and his supporters. But ignoring the facts harms all of us.

Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, a principal of the strategic communications firm Turner4D and a board member of the Center for International Policy.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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