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Commentary: Trump's order makes America worse

No immigration system is perfect, but the one Obama had in place was strong and long

The outrageous and unnecessary Trump executive order on immigration constitutes, among other things, another effort by the new president to denigrate the national security accomplishments of his predecessor and sell us something better. It’s not. Trump’s executive order makes America worse.

"We're going to have a very, very strict ban and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years,” Trump said, making a claim about weakness in the nation’s immigration system that does not hold up to scrutiny.

No system is perfect, but the one in place during the Obama administration was considered the toughest and longest in the world. It took months, even years, for some people to gain entry into the country. The refugees we took in from the horrible Syrian civil war have mostly been women and children.

“America has the strongest, most successful resettlement program in the world,” said David Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. “Certified by successive administrations, the U.S. resettlement program makes it harder to get to the United States as a refugee than any other route.”

But the president, selling policy as if it were just another product bearing the Trump brand, claims his system -- a sweeping, if temporary, ban on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries -- will top the one the Obama administration had in place and make the country even safer.

Instead, his order has caused panic and fear, confusion and tears, and cracked the face of the Statue of Liberty. With his signature on Friday, Trump signed away one of the few remaining claims to American exceptionalism -- that we welcome the world’s oppressed, even in a time of terror threats, because we are generous, kind and smart, because we have the money and the know-how to keep the country free and keep it safe, and because we remain the world’s best hope for liberal democracy.

It is hard to feel any of that today.

It is clear that Trump and his supporters believe former President Barack Obama did not do enough to keep the nation safe from infiltration by terrorists. But where’s the evidence of that?

This nation has suffered terrible casualties in mass killings in recent years, but they have mostly been carried out by our own people -- disturbed individuals with access to lots of guns and ammunition.

The killer of school children and their teachers in Sandy Hook was born in New Hampshire. The lead shooter in the San Bernardino massacre was born in Illinois. The killer of nine people in a Charleston church was an American-born white supremacist. The mass-killer who carried out the deadly shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was born in New York.

A recent study from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at the University of North Carolina, titled “Muslim-American Involvement in Violent Extremism,” found the following:

  • Since 9/11, there have been no fatalities in the United States caused by extremists with family backgrounds in the seven Muslim-majority countries under the Trump executive order (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen).
  • The 54 fatalities caused by Muslim-American extremists in 2016 -- a sum that includes the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre -- brought the total since the 9/11 attacks to 123. Consider that number in light of this one: More than 240,000 Americans were murdered over the same period.
  • In 2016 alone, 188 Americans were killed in mass shootings, a figure that does not include the victims of Muslim-American extremists.

Two years ago, law enforcement agencies across the country told researchers from the New America think tank that they considered the threat of violence from home-grown right-wing extremists -- people who hate the government or hate people of color -- far greater than the threat from Muslim extremists.

That doesn’t mean we let our guard down. That doesn’t mean the system for vetting people who enter the United States should become soft. Indeed, it’s not. Far from it.

Which makes the Trump effort to top what was already being done under previous presidents unnecessary, foolish and cruel. It’s like the call to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare; Trump and the Republicans keep calling it a disaster while they try to dream up something better, and so far they can’t.

I said the Trump executive order dashed a shining point of American exceptionalism; it certainly diminished our leadership in the world.

But the demonstrations against the order at U.S. airports on Saturday -- and the massive demonstrations across the country and around the world a week ago -- affirm another kind of exceptionalism: That millions of us still believe in the dream, appreciate our history and love the country for its diversity, and we freely assemble and protest fools who tamper with the ideals that made America great long before Donald Trump arrived.

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