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  • Article. Donald Trump’s Shortsighted Immigration Plans Won’t Secure the Homeland. By Walter Ewing

    Donald Trump’s Shortsighted Immigration Plans Won’t Secure the Homeland


    As any serious national security expert will tell you, trying to find a potential terrorist by treating all immigrants or Muslims as security risks is far too vague to be effective. Accurate intelligence and effective information-sharing across agencies is the key to national security—not profiling. Yet in a bombastic August 15 speech, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump offered up blatantly bigoted and utterly pointless proposals on national security including ideas like instituting an “ideological screening test” and “extreme vetting” to determine which would-be immigrants to the United States (especially Muslims) harbor “any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles.”

    Leaving aside Trump’s nativist histrionics, it would be a serious mistake to embrace policies that conflate immigration enforcement and counter-terrorism efforts, implying that immigration enforcement is a way to catch terrorists. In reality, immigration enforcement is not designed to catch terrorists; it is meant to catch people who violate immigration laws. Immigration-enforcement mechanisms might snare a terrorist if supplied with specific intelligence gleaned from counter-terrorist operations, but immigration enforcement by itself is very unlikely to stumble upon and actually identify a terrorist. Without the right information in the right hands, even the most efficiently constructed immigration-enforcement and border-control mechanisms are not going to catch a terrorist.

    This is precisely why the 9/11 Commission did not recommend that we adopt ethnic or religious profiling to help prevent another terrorist attack in the United States. Identifying threats actually depends on the development of “actionable intelligence” which identifies a specific threat, and then sharing that information with immigration and border-enforcement personnel. This approach is a little more subtle than profiling millions of people, which actually undermines intelligence gathering by alienating ethnic and religious communities and the countries from which they come. A group of people who feel themselves to be under government attack is not likely to share information with (and report tips to) the same government which is attacking them. Nor are the governments of their home countries as likely to partner with the United States in counter-terrorism operations.

    In evaluating the typically outlandish ideas thrown around by Trump, we should never forget that, shortly after 9/11, the federal government created the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Under NSEERS, 83,000 men from Muslim and Arab countries stepped forward and registered with the federal government, resulting in 13,000 deportations. However, no one who registered under NSEERS was ever charged with a crime related to terrorism. The “special registration” requirement ended in December 2003, while NSEERS as a whole was scrapped in April 2011. What Trump is proposing is NSEERS on a massive scale.

    It is important to keep in mind that “security” is about more than just keeping out those who would threaten our national security. It is also about creating and maintaining a vibrant economy and dynamic society that attract people from around the world. It is about establishing our global credibility as a society in which the rule of law and fundamental human rights are highly valued and respected. And it is about not undermining U.S. relationships with the allies needed to effectively combat international terrorists. If we move too far away from these goals, building a locked-down nation in which fear runs rampant and productivity and creativity are starved, then what exactly are we attempting to “secure”?

    Photo by Gage Skidmore.

    This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact. © 2016 Immigration Impact. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

    About The Author

    Walter Ewing Walter Ewing, Ph.D., is Senior Researcher at the American Immigration Council. In addition to authoring numerous reports for the Council, he has published articles in the Journal on Migration and Human Security, Society, the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, and the Stanford Law and Policy Review. He also authored a chapter in Debates on U.S. Immigration, published by SAGE in 2012. Mr. Ewing received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School in 1997. Follow him on Twitter @WalterAEwing.

    The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Nolan Rappaport's Avatar
      Nolan Rappaport -
      I think that trump's ideological screening and some of his other ideas are sophomoric. But I disagree with your characterization of his anti-terrorism proposals as blatantly bigoted and utterly pointless. Keeping terrorists out of the country is an extremely challenging task, and like any other enforcement program, it is not going to be 100% effective. But that doesn't mean that we should accept the status quo and not find additional things we can do to improve our security. Just look at what is happening in Europe...which Trump pointed out during his presentation. Terrorists who have visa waiver country citizenship and haven't done any of the things that the visa waiver improvement act would flag them for can simply register online for the visa waiver program and catch a flight to the US the next morning where their inspection will be perfunctory.

      I don't recall Trump saying that he would treat all immigrants or Muslims as security threats. He seems to be recognizing the fact that most of the terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, are Muslim. Do you think that is true? If so, doesn't it make sense to find a way to screen Muslims coming to the United States to identify any terrorists who might be hiding among them? if most terrorists had red hair, I would expect our gov't to screen red headed aliens coming to our country, and I wouldn't infer from such screening that the gov't hates or is prejudiced against people who have red hair.

      I do agree with your emphasis on intelligence, but the Director of the FBI and the Secretary of DHS said not long ago that they can't do background checks on Syrian refugees and presumably this would apply to some other countries also. They don't have a source of information from within that country. What kind of intelligence information would you expect them to have to identify terrorists coming from Syria as refugees?

      You are right that the 911 Commission did not recommend that we adopt ethnic or religious profiling to help prevent another terrorist attack, but I am not sure that is what Trump is proposing. He seems to be saying that he is going to have gov't experts identify countries and other areas that have a substantial number of terrorists and not let people from those places into the US until we are able to do background screening on them, i.e., get the intelligence information you say is so important.

      In fact, some of the 911 Commission recommendations do support Trump's proposals, such as the following three:

      14. Targeting travel is at least as powerful a weapon against terrorists as targeting their money. The United States should combine terrorist travel intelligence, operations, and law enforcement in a strategy to intercept terrorists, find terrorist travel facilitators, and constrain terrorist mobility. [This seems to be what he is trying to do with his screening proposals.]

      15. The U.S. border security system should be integrated into a larger network of screening points that includes our transportation system and access to vital facilities, such as nuclear reactors. The President should direct the Department of Homeland Security to lead the effort to design a comprehensive screening system, addressing common problems and setting common standards with systemwide goals in mind. Extending those standards among other governments could dramatically strengthen America and the world's collective ability to intercept individuals who pose catastrophic threats. [Another screening recommendations.]
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