Of walls and refugees

Tensions are high, and competing narratives are being thrown back and forth about Trump’s recent executive order halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. He also recently signed an executive order authorizing his most famous campaign promise, a wall on our southern border that will be paid for by a tariff on Mexican imports. Let’s unpack.

The executive order halting refugees is not a blanket ban on Muslims. It is a temporary ban from certain countries, identified by the previous administration as high risk conflict zones. But it is still terrible public policy. Terrorist attacks in the U.S., especially by radical Muslims, are exceedingly rare. One reason for this is that we already do have a rather thorough vetting process. People from the seven countries have not committed any acts of aggression in this country, and the simple fact is that Muslims here are far more likely to be victimized than victimizers.

The ban also exempts other Muslim countries, many with business ties to Trump. Whether this is a coincidence, I’ll let you decide for yourself. Two of these countries in particular, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, do have a history of violent individuals committing acts of aggression against the U.S. This is not to say that banning individuals from any country is wise, but it does show an inconsistency.

There is one thing that always baffles me about the rationale behind any sort of refugee ban. The rationale goes that we must restrict access from these areas of conflict, and by letting refugees in, they are bringing the danger with them. But this ignores the simple fact of what a refugee is. They are leaving their country for other shores precisely because it is so dangerous. The order has also carried some very unlawful, unconstitutional baggage. People with green cards and visas, people who have already been through our vetting system, have been denied reentry into the U.S. This is absurd.

There is one seed of good in this administration’s refugee policy, but it has a long way to go before being actually prudent. This administration has said it will give priority to Christian refugees. This is not to say that any actions should be taken against Muslim refugees, or that they should be banned. They are still the majority in these regions, and logically will make up the majority of refugees. But until now, the Christians of the Middle East have been facing a hopeless and dire situation. They do not even feel safe in the refugee camps, and so measures that are helping other refugees are not helping them. This is a population facing genocide, and next to nothing is being done by the outside world to help them. So perhaps giving them priority is not the right direction, but absolutely give them the help that they need.

The other major talking point of Trump’s America is his wall. If this executive order is heeded, construction on this wall will begin within months. The cost of the project is estimated to be around 20 billion. For a party that is so concerned about debt, it is beyond me that Republicans have suddenly found all this money to pay for a construction project that is nothing more than a symbolic gesture of contempt. The Mexicans will pay for it, I’m told. With a tariff on Mexican goods. Let’s break this down in economic terms.  A tariff is an importation tax imposed on a good from a foreign country. When tariffs are levied, the exporter raises the price to make up the cost. This means that ultimately, Americans are paying for the wall. It is one thing to be concerned about illegal immigration, and take reasonable steps to ensure border security. But this wall is an ego monument more than it is a reasonable public policy.

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