On the cruelty of Trump’s immigration ban

There are so many facets to Trump’s recent executive order regarding immigration, so much opposition, so much noise, that I felt it’s useful to state why the order seems so cruel to me.

The executive order has several clauses, but the main points are — (i) temporarily bans entry of citizens of seven Muslim countries; (ii) bans the issuance of visas to citizens of those countries; and (iii) freezes the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Let’s focus on the travel bans relating to people with already issued visas and green cards, and examine some general cases of people from those countries, and how the order affects them —

  1. A person holding a visitor’s visa, trying to travel to the US for business or tourism. The person has already made plans, perhaps purchased plane tickets, paid for hotel rooms, set up meetings, etc. They also spent quite a while obtaining this visitor’s visa — citizens of the affected countries need to pay a fee, interview at the US embassy, undergo background checks, etc. They spent all this effort and money, and are now blocked. This is unkind, but likely won’t have much of an impact on their lives.
  2. A person holding an immigration visa. Getting ready to immigrate is a serious endeavor. They probably quit their job, sold a home and/or possessions, made arrangements in the US (like a job), etc. Obtaining an immigrant visa takes a very, very long time. They likely spent years paying fees, having multiple interviews and background checks, possibly spent several years on waiting lists. They did all of this with the understanding that America’s word is good — if all is well with their case, they get approved, and will be welcomed. Now, through no fault of their own, their plans are upturned. What are they to do now? Put yourself in their shoes.
  3. A student, studying in the US. For example, a graduate student from Iran (there are thousands in the US). They, too, expended a great deal of effort obtaining a visa, and have spent a few years in the US already, studying and conducting research. They were out of the country, perhaps visiting family, attending an academic conference, or just vacationing. Now, suddenly, they can’t return. Their lives are in the US now — their home, their work, their friends. Will they have to abandon their studies? Will their entire life-plan be put on hold, or irreparably damaged? What are they to do?
    Again, put yourself in their shoes — you’ve done nothing wrong, and no one is even claiming otherwise. You played by all the rules, got that visa, came, studied, did research, followed the law, paid your taxes. And now you’re stuck, just because of your country.
  4. A green-card holder. Though it seems the original order was revised and most were eventually allowed to enter, the order did apply to them. This person has been living in the US for several years, much like the student discussed above. Obtaining that green card was a very long and difficult process, but they went through it. Some apply for a green card from abroad, others do so while on a work visa in the US, sometimes after completing college or graduate school in the US. Obtaining the green card (permanent residency) is the hardest hurdle to clear in order to immigrate; after five years as permanent residents, they can apply for citizenship, and approval is nearly automatic for people living in the US who have followed the law.
    They came, got jobs, worked, had children. This person already thinks of themselves as American. This is their home. They just visited another country, and suddenly they’re treated like a terrible threat. They’ve spent so long here, did everything right, and through no fault of their own — they’re blocked from coming home.
    Now, even if they’re later allowed to enter, as was the case for most, think of what that does to a person. Your adopted country suddenly turning on you like that, treating you like an enemy, simply because of your birth country, not anything you did (and so you cannot even defend yourself).

Not only are these cases incredibly cruel, they have an unavoidable implication. These legal students and green card holders could be blocked from entering because they happened to be abroad when the order was enacted. But what’s the difference between those who happened to be abroad, and everyone else who remained in the US? The logical extension of the order is the deportation of all of these persons in the US now. Should every student and green card holder from those countries live in fear of a knock on the door now, again, through no fault of their own, and with no possible defense? Consider that international students often have to renew their visas multiple times during their studies; would such a student be forced to abandon their studies partway, as the US won’t issue a new visa?

I’ve discussed the practical results of the order for many people, and the logical implication of it. But in a wider context, it represents a break of trust. All of these visa and green card holders played by the rules set of the US government. They were approved by the US government. They changed the course of their lives based on that approval, and have invested great effort into the project (from obtaining the visa, to long studies, to putting down roots as new residents). They trusted America’s word, that if they follow the rules, they will be treated fairly. Now they’re being treated arbitrarily, injured not due to any offense from them, but because of their nationality, which was always known.

Why should any foreigner trust the government again?

Why should any American?