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Stricter borders — if preventing terrorism is the goal, the Trump approach is deeply flawed

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Donald Trump just signed an order ending his immigration policy of separating minor children from adult family members.

Despite this reversal, the concept of extreme vetting was again cast into the national spotlight. Preventing violent crime and terrorism is Trump’s stated rationale for restricting U.S. immigration particularly from Mexico, Central America and select Muslim majority countries.

{mosads}Terrorism entails the systematic use of violence, intimidation and threats to produce fear and coercion among targeted groups.


If preventing terrorism is the goal, the Trump administration’s approach is deeply flawed.

First, the U.S. already has among the world’s most stringent vetting of immigrants from majority Muslim countries. Second, U.S. immigrants have significantly lower crime rate than U.S.-born citizens. 

Finally, research reveals that most domestic terrorism is committed by U.S. citizens. Deaths from foreign-born terrorists in the U.S. are much less likely and, in fact, constitute a minuscule proportion of all violent deaths in the nation.

So just who is terrorizing whom in the U.S. today?

Security experts and researchers report that U.S.-born, domestic, right-wing fundamentalists who belong to white supremacist or white nationalist anti-government groups are a greater terrorism threat than any foreign-born group. Members of these domestic groups easily and legally acquire guns, their chosen weapons of terrorism.

Deaths from school shootings like those in Newtown, Conn., and Parkland, Fla., are acts of terrorism. Our nation’s children report feeling threatened and unsafe in schools.

Hate-inspired attacks against populations of faith, like those at a synagogue in Philadelphia, a mosque in Bloomington, Minn. and churches in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Charleston, S.C., are acts of terrorism. U.S. citizens report not feeling safe in their places of worship.

Mass shootings such as those at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and a Las Vegas concert are acts of terrorism. U.S. citizens report not feeling safe while gathered for social events and entertainment.

Hate-inspired demonstrations, such as the march in Charlottesville, Va., are acts of terrorism. U.S. citizens report feeling marginalized and excluded from basic civil rights and protections.

Individual encounters with prejudiced bigots who discriminate against others they believe “don’t belong” are acts of terrorism. Members of targeted groups report not feeling safe in common activities like swimming, golfing, attending college tours, shopping, walking their dogs or taking a nap.

Federal policies designed to deter asylum-seekers by separating children from families fleeing violence are unpalatable when perpetrated against anyone, but particularly heinous and untenable when the most powerful leverage terrorist actions against the weakest.

Given this diverse array of U.S.-based terrorism, we as a nation should seriously reconsider who gets vetted. For instance, because many U.S. residents currently on travel ban lists can legally purchase firearms, aspiring gun owners looking to purchase high-capacity assault weapons should undergo extreme vetting — by the voters. 

Finally, given the current existential threat to sacred national institutions of a civil democracy — such as a free press, an independent judicial system and intelligence agencies — our administration officials, legislators, policymakers and the chief executive should all be subjected to a process of extreme vetting.

Presidential and congressional candidates could be interviewed to ensure they understand core concepts of U.S. political, legislative, diplomatic and policymaking processes. These include the separation of church and state, respect for civil and human rights and a system of checks and balances through three co-equal branches of government that’s designed to prevent aspirations of establishing an authoritarian monocracy.

So yes, we as a nation should support extreme vetting of those who pose the greatest threat to the well-being and lives of U.S. citizens and residents, especially when they are at the highest levels of government.

Jay Pearson is an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy who teaches courses on ethics, public policy, and health policy.

Tags Donald Trump Immigration

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