Before you head out to your next anti-Trump parade or party, ask yourself whether you agree with this:
“The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own), or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender or sexual orientation.”
If you agree, how would you fashion policy to achieve these goals? If you disagree, what standard (if any) would you use to decide who enters the United States?
The passage above is from Section 1 of President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration. This is no trick. You can agree with that section while disagreeing with the balance of the order.
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Indeed, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart’s Feb. 3 decision says nothing about Section 1, while blocking Sections 3 and 5.
“The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches,” Robart wrote. “… The narrow question the court is asked to consider today is whether it is appropriate to enter a TRO [temporary restraining order] against certain actions taken by the Executive in the context of this specific lawsuit.”
Robart deserves credit for clarity, but his eloquence is no guarantee he’s legally correct. That test will likely come in the form of a new executive order after reports surfaced that the White House decided over the weekend to forfeit its battle in the wake of a federal appeals court upholding Robart’s decision.
Despite the setback I believe Trump and his team are likely to prevail in the end.
That doesn’t mean Trump’s action was wise, but our history is full of discriminatory immigration actions that endured, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the 1907 Gentlemen’s Agreement between the U.S. and Japan, the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
Legislation in recent decades has moved toward more even-handed treatment of foreign nationals, but U.S. policy still limits who may enter the country.
This brings us to that second and more fundamental question: Does a nation have the right to decide who gets in?
In “The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion” (2014), William Voegeli writes that “Conservatives approach immigration as a practical problem: How do we, the citizens of this particular country, let in the people we want to let in and keep out the people we want, and have every right, to keep out?”
On the other side, Voegeli quotes blogger Steve Sailer, are those who believe that “Here in America, we increasingly treat immigration as if it were a sacred civil right possessed by 7 billion foreigners.”
It can be no such thing unless one is willing to erase national borders and admit anyone. While I don’t believe that most (or many) of those protesting Trump’s orders favor open borders, neither do they seem to have spent much time thinking about what a rational immigration policy should include, and what steps would be necessary to enforce it.
For starters, the United States is not legally obligated to admit anyone, no matter how dire their circumstances, and no matter what they can offer our nation.
Whether our nation is morally obligated to admit immigrants is another matter. From Vietnam to Iraq and Syria (and many places in between), moral principles suggest we owe some people an opportunity for a better life here, if for no other reason than the horrors some of our policies have helped create in their homelands.
But moral imperatives and legal requirements are different things.
Title 8, Chapter 12, Section 1182 of the U.S. code states: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”
That doesn’t mean Trump’s Jan. 27 order was wise or fair, and his dangerous verbal assault on Judge Robart (calling him a “so-called judge”) was both unwise and injurious to public debate. But the substance of Trump’s immigration order may yet stand up in court.
Protests are fine, but pressuring lawmakers to develop a rational, even-handed immigration policy is the far more useful path for political activists to follow.
Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.