John W. Tomac’s “Liberty Flameout” for The New Yorker.

Cruelty by the numbers

Fact-facts: the immigration ban is wrong. It’s also surprisingly popular

Eight days after the President of the United States signed the so-called “Muslim ban”, much of the world remains shocked and outraged.

Rightfully so. The executive order last Friday betrayed our identity as an immigrant nation; it also wrecked our moral authority on the global stage.

Before we are subsumed by the latest dust storm coming out of Washington, let’s take stock of what happened over the last week.

The highlights:

  1. We indefinitely barred the world’s largest refugee population (5 million Syrians).
  2. We cancelled so many visas the government can’t agree on a number of those affected (60,000–100,000 visa-holders).
  3. Between 200–250 individuals were detained at US airports last weekend. A further 348 people were prevented from boarding planes.
  4. We risked alienating 500,000 green-card holders that have made America their home.
  5. We detained 1 former prime minister of Norway at Washington Dulles Airport.
  6. We are reducing the remaining refugee cap for this fiscal year from 80,000 to 20,000. (30,000 entered the country between October 1, 2016 and the executive order).

There are wide-ranging consequences to slamming the door on outsiders. Putting aside our values and the 410 year tradition of resettlement in America, today foreign-born US residents perform some of the most essential roles in our society.

For example, almost 30% of doctors in the US are immigrants. 8,400 doctors in the US are from Syria or Iran, and banning them would double the deficit of primary care physicians in the US.

This action had absolutely nothing to do with bolstering national security. If you don’t believe that refugees are screened thoroughly, consider that it takes an average of 18–24 months before being settled in the United States. Or that 72% of refugees admitted last year were women and children.

Backed by popular demand

The architects of the executive order are senior Trump advisors Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller. Both are prominent Islamophobes. While the administration denies targeting Muslims, public statements have made it abundantly clear that this act was borne of bigotry, cold political calculation, and ignorance.

Yet is wrong to think of these men as renegade ideologues. Their beliefs and anxieties are shared by millions of Americans with little experience or understanding of the Muslim world.

When you look at the numbers, a broad segment of US voters are wary of Islam.

A 2014 Pew survey found that Republicans were far more skeptical of Islam than any other religion, and during the elections Trump supporters were twice as likely as Clinton supporters to view the religion unfavorably. 2010 gallup data reveals that 48% of Muslims in America reported experiencing racial or religious discrimination.

A sorry tradition

Cover of German magazine Der Spiegel: The international community searches for meaning in American politics

American nativism is nothing new, and this isn’t the first time the country has shuttered its doors. We passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, the Immigration Act in 1924 (banning Arabs and Asians, virtually banning Jews, Italians, and Africans). Most famously, we refused entry to the nearly 1000 Jewish refugees on the St. Louis fleeing the Nazis in Europe, and 254 returned to die in the Holocaust.

We did better after World War II, but the public remained deeply suspicious of new arrivals.

This was especially true of the victims of Communist regimes admitted during the Cold War: 55% of Americans disapproved of Hungarians arrivals in 1958; 65% disapproved of the Indochinese arrivals in 1979; 71% disapproved of Cuban resettlement to the US in 1980.

Angry people everywhere!

This time around, a very visible section of Americans are pushing back.

Protest in Washington. Photo: Megan Ahern

Thousands protested at major airports across America last weekend. Constituents are jamming the phone lines of their senators — and also calling outside their districts. Susan Collins (R-Maine) estimates that 90% of calls to her office are from out of state.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from Trump’s economic advisory council. As of Jan 31, the ACLU raised $24.2million in donations following their legal challenge to the executive order.

Theresa May, the first foreign leader to visit the Trump White House, condemned the president’s actions as “divisive and wrong” on the heels of her decidedly chummy Oval Office meetings.


Despite what you see on television, the ban is pretty popular across much of America.

Initial polling following the executive order indicates that significantly more Americans support Trump’s action than those who oppose it (by a whopping margin of 7 points).

Approval ratings suffered following the widespread confusion implementing the ban, but it nonetheless left America almost evenly divided, with 47% of respondents in a CNN poll saying they approved of the executive order vs. 53% disapproval.

Without a doubt, Trump remains deeply unpopular for a new President.


At the same time, 92% of his supporters are sticking with him through these rocky 2 weeks. From the perspective of his highly-energized base, he’s delivered on key promises to his base, shunning political conventions at every turn.

Assuming his popularity doesn’t sink significantly, this strategy makes political sense: retaining blue-caller support holding or even expanding Republican control of the House in 2018.

Swamp creatures

Up on Capitol Hill, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have remained loyal.

Twenty Congressional Republicans have spoken out against the ban, but most with reservations about the action have warily stood behind the the President, unwilling to risk alienating their party’s top official in the White House.

The reason is simple: they have an ambitious legislative agenda and despite controlling both chambers of Congress they’ll need Trump, a famously vindictive and transactional fellow, to sign much of it into law.

They have good reason to believe the media furor will pass. It may be wise to quiet the better angels of their nature. They can cash in their loyalty for backing Trump through contentious cabinet positions before long.

Good afternoon and good luck

Whatever you do, don’t give in to the bunker installment craze.

If this is something that bothers you, don’t forget about as the next shocking development arises. This will be a challenge as the human impact becomes less measurable. Dara Lind writes in Vox:

The tens of thousands of refugees who might have been allowed to settle in the US, and now will not be able to, aren’t immediately visible. They’re not showing up at airports and demanding lawyers. But the human cost of the executive order, no matter how smoothly it’s applied, will remain.

You can see how this story might disappear from the front pages, but please try to keep it in your thoughts. This won’t be easy given the pandemonium in Washington.

Looking to do your part? One way to get involved is to read the Indivisible Guide, which is written by former congressional staffers and is loaded with best practices for making Congress listen. Or follow this publication, connect with us on Twitter, and join us on Facebook.