• Ahmed spent the last 26 years in a Somali camp now numbering 270,000 refugees. After years of extensive vetting, he was finally cleared to go to the United States. He had vacated his “home” at the camp, sold his belongings, and bought “American clothes” on credit. On January 27, 2017, he was at a transmit center in Kenya preparing to fly to America when he got the news of the Executive Order.
• Haider’s wife, having helped the Americans in Iraq, was admitted to the United States three years ago with their son. Haider had gone to Sweden, where he completed the 3-year vetting process that won him permission to join his wife in Houston. He was en route when the Executive Order went into effect. When he landed at JFK, he was sequestered, interrogated, handcuffed, and told he must return not to Sweden, but to Baghdad, where he would surely be killed.
• A lawyer with the International Refugee Assistance Project tried to get answers from the Customs and Border Protection at JFK. Having none, they told her to call the President. “They specified that the president was Donald Trump in case we weren’t aware of that,” she said.
• “Bob” has vetted potential immigrants for many years. He takes umbrage at the term “extreme vetting,” since it implies, against all the evidence, that his efforts since 9/11 have been inadequate. “Bob” explains what the process entails and says that when the President calls for stronger vetting, “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
• The 9/ll terrorist attacks were used as the justification for the Executive Order. Susan Ginsburg, senior counsel for the 9/11 Commission Report, noted that “counterterrorism at the time was viewed as the purview of specialists. There was no government-wide strategic focus on counterterrorism.” Since then, we’ve spent billions of dollars making changes to ensure that strategic focus is in place. “Any policy or practice that was in place at the time 9/11 happened has long been superseded.” Ginsberg said. She conceded that there is always a risk. The government is constantly modifying its security procedures and can never quit doing that.
• Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of a website on national security law called Lawfare: “I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose of this executive order. In the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process…. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives. When do you do these things?” he asks rhetorically. “You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. This will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do…. Whatever the White House is saying this is going to do, this will not help with terrorism, but it will keep out Muslims.”
• Abdi literally won the lottery for a green card to the United States several years ago. He lives in Portland, Maine, and has used his green card in the past to visit Canada. He won’t be doing that again any time soon. “Remember, I’m a Somali. I come from Somalia, one of the countries that he [Trump] really doesn’t like. And he came to Portland, the city where I live … and talked about the Somalis as bad people …. So I’m worried.”
These snippets give you a taste of the breadth of stories and analysis in this week’s This American Life, entitled “It’s Working Out Very Nicely.” If you listen to nothing else this weekend, listen to this. Then read the Ninth Circuit’s decision denying the reinstatement of President Trump’s misbegotten travel ban. The decision is methodical, logical, and restrained – everything you would hope for from a branch of the federal government and cannot get from a tweet. At a time when “executive” and “order” simply don’t fit in the same phrase, it’s consoling to have a judiciary that is judicious.
Mary Sheehy Moe