Is this document a reasonable security measure? There are many areas in which security policy affects innocent lives but within which we do not presumptively say that the fact that some group of people faces disproportionate burdens renders that policy illegitimate. But if an entire religious grouping finds itself irrationally excluded from the country for no discernible security benefit following a lengthy campaign that overtly promised precisely such discrimination and exactly this sort of exclusion, if the relevant security agencies are excluded from the policy process, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether the reasonable pursuit of security is the purpose, I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.
So yes, the order is malevolent. But here’s the thing: Many of these malevolent objectives were certainly achievable within the president’s lawful authority. The president’s power over refugee admissions is vast. His power to restrict visa issuances and entry of aliens to the United States is almost as wide. If the National Security Council had run a process of minimal competence, it could certainly have done a lot of stuff that folks like me, who care about refugees, would have gnashed our teeth over but which would have been solidly within the President’s authority. It could have all been implemented in a fashion that didn’t create endless litigation opportunities and didn’t cause enormous diplomatic friction.
How incompetent is this order? An immigration lawyer who works for the federal government wrote me today describing the quality of the work as “look[ing] like what an intern came up with over a lunch hour. . . . My take is that it is so poorly written that it’s hard to tell the impact.” One of the reasons there’s so much chaos going on right now, in fact, is that nobody really knows what the order means on important points.