Now that Super Bowl Sunday, our great secular holiday, is past and New England has won, we can once again turn our attention to the mundane world of real news.
By far, the most consequential and controversial action the Trump administration has taken so far is its ban on entry to this country of people from seven Muslim-majority countries. Here's a timeline of events: On Jan. 27, President Trump signed an executive order closing the borders to refugees fleeing the genuine carnage of the Syrian war. It ordered "immigrant and nonimmigrant" travel to the United States be suspended for 90 days. The order allowed exemptions for people practicing a "minority religion" in those countries. The very next day, protests were held at many airports in the United States. A Federal District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the administration from returning travelers trapped by the ban back to the countries they left. A second temporary restraining order ordered the release of green card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport. On Jan. 29, acting Attorney General Sally Yates said that, in her professional opinion, the executive order was unconstitutional and she would not defend it. The next day, Trump fired her and said that she "betrayed the Department of Justice." Rudy Giuliani put the lie to the claim that the ban was aimed strictly at Muslims by stating in an interview that Trump asked him, "put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally."
Protests continued throughout the week. Trump's supporters defended his actions, his detractors criticized it and Gov. Hogan ducked the issue. Last Friday, federal appellate Judge James Robart issued a nationwide injunction against the government implementing the ban. The judge's ruling declared "the executive order adversely affects the states' residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel." It also declared that the states themselves were harmed in several ways, and "These harms are significant and ongoing." The decision also stated that "the work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches [of government]." On Saturday, Trump tweeted his displeasure, saying "the opinion of this 'so-called' judge … is ridiculous and will be overturned."
Trump's war of words with Robart isn't his first feud with a federal judge: recall that when Trump University was under investigation, he criticized Judge Gonzalo Curiel, accusing him of being biased, a "hater," because the judge is a Mexican who opposes building the wall. It's one thing for Candidate Trump to level unfounded and provably false accusations against a sitting judge, quite another for President Trump to challenge the legitimacy of a sitting judge. He may fire an acting Attorney General, however unwise that firing is. He may question a judge's ruling, however sound the judge's reasoning is, by appealing it, to the Supreme Court if need be. But he does not have the power to challenge the court's right to make a ruling. An independent judiciary is the single-most important safeguard against either legislative or executive excesses. When Trump attacks the court's impartiality, he strikes at the core of our government's legitimacy.
There is not much evidence to support the administration's opinion that keeping Muslims from Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Somalia from entering will make us more secure; however, there's good reason to suspect that the ban would do us great harm. Trump's words are being used to help ISIS recruit more jihadists, which will only increase the risks to American and Western European democracies, rather than reduce them. In addition to that unintended consequence, economists have argued that immigrants have contributed significantly to our economy by starting small businesses, working in high-tech fields to improve our competitive position in global markets and strengthening our universities. There's not much more that a Trump administration can do to improve the vetting process; the policies put in place over the years have made it very tough for immigrants to enter America, and in fact, since 9/11, no one in the U.S. has been killed by a terrorist attack perpetrated by someone from the seven countries on Trump's list have committed acts of terrorism in our country.
Perhaps some in his administration may read the words on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… ." If so, it's high time for them to take those words to heart.