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Opinion Donald Trump’s crazy ideas about immigration just got even crazier

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Remember Donald Trump’s call for a temporary shutdown on all Muslims from entering the country until we can figure out “what is going on” (wink, wink)?

In his GOP convention acceptance speech last month, Trump revised that plan, calling for an immediate suspension of immigration from all countries that have been “compromised by terrorism,” while declining to name the countries that fall under that description.

Now Trump is set to revise the plan yet again in a speech in Ohio today. And it is only getting more outlandish, if such a thing is even possible.

The New York Times previews the key elements of Trump’s new proposal, which were shared in a conference call that Trump senior adviser Jason Miller held with reporters:

In the speech, Mr. Trump will call for greater scrutiny in screening immigrants, particularly from countries he has described as “exporters” of terrorism.
The plan would be to have people answer a questionnaire that could press them on their commitment to “our basic principles of tolerance and pluralism,” on issues ranging from gay rights to women’s rights, Mr. Miller said. If that is not effective, visas could be banned from certain areas of the world.
“We’re going to make it clear and explicit that just like the Cold War struggle against Communism, our current struggle is against radical Islamic terrorism,” Mr. Miller said. “Just like we did in the Cold War, we’re going to create higher standards for admission than not being a terrorist.”

We’ll see if Trump’s speech offers any further details. But as of now, this plan — to screen people based on their commitment to values such as tolerance and pluralism — seems rather impractical, to put it charitably.

Prominent immigration attorney David Leopold tells me that in current immigration law there is some room for discretion for a president to bar certain people from entering the country based on a general designation that they represent a threat, even if they would otherwise qualify for entry through normal channels. But, he says, that would be unlikely to apply to a plan of the sort that Trump appears to be envisioning.

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“It would be an extreme legal stretch — likely to the breaking point — to use this provision to keep people out based on their opinions about religious freedoms, LGBTQ issues or gender equality,” Leopold says. “Based on what we know so far, Trump’s proposal is patently unlawful, unworkable and absurd on its face.”

What this would mean is that Trump’s proposal would all but certainly require an act of Congress to radically change the law, Leopold adds. In other words, not only would it be laughably unlikely to happen, since Congress would not go along; it also opens the door to asking GOP leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell whether they agree with it.

And that assumes such an approach is even workable to begin with. NBC News recently talked to immigration experts and determined that Trump’s initial idea of a Muslim ban is so impractical that it would essentially destroy our immigration system. Trump has described last month’s revision of his plan as an “expansion” of it, and his latest one would probably be an even greater expansion, making it even more impractical.

“You’re going to test everyone who comes in?” Leopold continued incredulously. “Do you have any idea how much that would cost and how massively disruptive that would be? It would break the system.”

Here’s another problem with Trump’s whole approach. In his speech today, Trump will also call for broad international cooperation against terrorism. Per the Times’ preview, based on the call with senior Trump adviser Jason Miller:

Mr. Trump also plans to call for working closely with countries where Islamic State terrorism has flourished, seeking to team up with these nations to eradicate it….The United States will “consider any nation that will join the fight against it an ally,” Mr. Miller said.

Trump will call for partnering in the battle against terrorism with countries in the Middle East. This, even though his (now expanded) call for a temporary ban on Muslims, and his insistence on using the phrase “Islamic terrorism” (he endlessly mocks Obama and Hillary Clinton for refusing to mouth those words) risks alienating moderate Muslims.

As Jeffrey Goldberg reported recently, virtually all senior-level national security professionals agree that the sort of clash-of-civilizations rhetoric that Trump employs risks “making Islam itself the enemy,” which actually runs counter to our interests. Yet Trump is going to double down on that framework today — his adviser says he will explicitly describe the battle against “radical Islamic terrorism” in the same Manichean terms as the Cold War — even as he amplifies the call for moderate Muslims to help in that battle.

It’s pretty obvious what this “new” plan is really about. Trump wants to basically repackage his proposed Muslim ban — which has been widely denounced as fundamentally at odds with American values — by somehow making it seem in sync with American values such as pluralism and tolerance. He will do this by changing the test for entry from a religious one to a values-based one. (Never mind the practical, moral, and legal questions raised by the imposition of such a test.) Yet, by placing this values-based test in the broader context of a global clash of civilizations — what Goldberg calls a tacit effort to “make Islam itself the enemy” — Trump hopes to keep the proposal’s original appeal to his base (who continue to agree with the Muslim ban) intact. Ingenious!