Perhaps most importantly, the order reduces the total permitted intake of refugees for the 2017 fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000. This issue has not gotten nearly as much media coverage as other parts of the order. But it gives the lie to the administration’s claims that the order merely targets migrants from countries that are unusually likely to pose security risks. The reduction in total intake is a cruel blow to refugees from all over the world, both Muslim and otherwise, including many who don’t pose any even remotely conceivable risk. The order condemns thousands of people to the risk of death and oppression or – at best – life in horrendous refugee camps.
On net, Trump’s order actually increases the risk to national security far more than it might reduce it. Trump and his supporters are not the only ones who want to keep Syrian refugees out of the US. The leaders of ISIS feel exactly the same way. They want to prevent Muslims from fleeing to the West so as not to reduce the number of people living under ISIS rule, and also because they fear that refugees might be influenced by Western liberal values inimical to radical Islamism. Trump’s order plays into ISIS’ hands, both by keeping out refugees and by needlessly antagonizing Muslims around the world.
Trump’s order also benefits terrorists because it keeps out Iraqis and Syrians who helped US forces, often risking their own lives in the process. If you were an Iraqi or Syrian considering helping the US, would you trust American promises of refuge after this order? I don’t think I would. Intelligence and other assistance from members of the local population is essential to combatting terrorists and insurgents. Don’t take my word for it. Take that of the US military’s counterinsurgency manual, coauthored by General James Mattis, the newly confirmed secretary of defense (one of Trump’s few good appointees). Thanks to Donald Trump, US forces are now less likely to get that kind of support.
In any event, efforts to help Christian refugees need not come at the expense of Muslims and others. We should provide refugees fleeing tyranny and oppression regardless of their religion. Both Muslim and Christian victims of oppression deserve refuge, and both are potentially valuable allies in the War on Terror. The same is true of adherents of other religions targeted by our enemies, such as the Yazidis.
The events of the last two days are probably just the beginning of the political and legal struggle over Trump’s cruel refugee policy. Hopefully, the combination of widespread political opposition and adverse court decisions will force the administration to pull back. But we should not expect that fight to be either easy or quick.
UPDATE: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly now says that green card holders from the affected nations will be allowed into the United States “absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare.” But given the chaos surrounding the implementation of the order, we cannot take it for granted that the White House will accept Kelly’s decision. And what counts as “significant derogatory information” is, to say the least, vague.
UPDATE #2: I have clarified the data on the odds of being killed by foreign terrorists to differentiate between all foreigners and refugees specifically. Both risks are very low. In the original version of this post, I conflated the figure for refugee terrorists (1 in 3.6 billion per year), with that for all immigrants (1 in 51 million, calculated from data compiled here). But both are still far lower than the odds of being killed by a lightning strike (about 1 in 10 million per year, calculated from data here). I regret the mistake. The chance of being killed by a foreign-born terrorist of any kind (including those here on tourist visas, who have committed the vast majority of terrorist attacks by foreigners on US soil) is 1 in 3.9 million per year, about 2.5 times higher than the risk of death by lightning, but still extremely low (about five times lower than the risk of dying by drowning in a bathtub, for example). And most of the death toll that shows up in the data comes from the 9/11 attack, a type of incident that is unlikely to recur, given changes in airport security and the likelihood that aircrew will no longer cooperate with hijackers, as happened on 9/11.