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Trump’s Extreme Vetting Charade

The scant new vetting measures the administration has imposed have all the flavor of the extreme vetting Trump has promised, without any of the punch.

Donald Trump keeps trying to tout the need for a travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority nations, despite the latest legal setback to his crusade. A second federal appeals court slapped down his revised travel ban, following a similar decision in May by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Earlier this month, seemingly increasingly exasperated over his apparent inability to impose the ban, the president tweeted: “In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!”

Yet as Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), puts it, “The manner in which they have been pursuing the legal case undercuts the argument for the urgency of the executive order.” After the first ban was shut down and an appeals court declined to reinstate it, Trump’s attorneys requested more than a month to write the second version of the ban instead of fighting over the original one. When federal judges blocked the second version of the ban, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to review the case — not in an expedited process, but as part of its normal proceedings next fall.

Such a meandering approach by Trump’s lawyers — combined with the slow manner in which the administration has been reviewing existing measures — raises the question of whether the rhetoric is nothing more than a ploy to appeal to the president’s base. After all, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department, the two main agencies that deal with border control and visa approvals, have always had a vast mandate to evaluate potential threats and to tightly scrutinize visa applicants. DHS alone has roughly 2,000 staff spread across 80 countries running programs targeting high-risk travelers, making Trump’s insistence on the need for more extreme-vetting measures all the more ludicrous. His disingenuous and myopic obsession with border control will only succeed in destroying the global reputation of the United States while doing little to protect its people.

Indeed, the scant new vetting measures the administration has imposed have all the flavor of the extreme vetting Trump has promised, without any of the punch. For instance, Trump’s promise in August 2016 to impose tests to discover hostile ideologies in potential immigrants and to select only those who “we expect to flourish in our country” are still unrealized. Expert groups, such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association, have so far seen very few concrete changes to the screening process.

The only new vetting measure that has been publicly acknowledged will, it seems, add a new hurdle to the visa application process while doing little to actually tighten security. For example, in late May, the administration approved a new questionnaire that asks US visa applicants to divulge all the social media handles and email addresses they have used in the previous five years. The new step is likely to produce a great deal more paperwork, but it is doubtful that it will do much to stop aspiring terrorists.

Tashfeen Malik, for instance, a US permanent resident from Pakistan who committed the San Bernardino terrorist attack with her husband in 2015, had made her extremist sympathies clear on Facebook, but mainly in the form of private messages or posts, raising the question of just how useful the new questionnaire would be.

The policies Trump is pursuing stand in stark contrast to the European Union, which has a much more pragmatic approach to border control and visa processing. The EU’s 26-nation Schengen area already allows passport- and visa-free travel within its borders. And even though more terrorist activity has occurred in Europe recently, the EU continues to strategically lift visa restrictions for certain countries, part of a drive to boost trade, tourism, exchange and, therefore, economic growth. This policy is founded on the fact that most terrorist incidents in Europe — as is also true in the US — are carried out by long-term legal residents, not recent immigrants or temporary visitors.

Most recently, for instance, the EU approved visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens holding biometric passports, a fulfillment of a longstanding commitment, part of a drive to undercut Russian influence in the country following its annexation of Crimea. Several months earlier, in February, the EU approved a proposal on visa liberalization for Georgia. Both sides view visa-free travel to Europe as part of a geopolitical dispute with Russia over Georgia’s Western inclinations, which Moscow opposes. In 2016, Brussels signed a short-stay visa waiver agreement with Peru. Peruvians’ newfound access to Europe was bolstered by their new biometric passports, made by a consortium led by France’s Imprimerie Nationale. The measure is expected to boost travel from Peru by 15% in the first year.

Europe’s continued drive to streamline border entry systems, in contrast with US policies, are both supporting some of Brussels’ geopolitical goals and making the continent a far more welcoming destination for tourists, academic talent and businesspeople. Meanwhile, last month, more than 50 US academic and educational groups sent a letter to the State Department warning that “unacceptably long delays in processing” could hurt the ability of American higher education institutions to recruit top international students.

There has also been a significant drop in US tourism, known as the “Trump slump,” which is predicted to result in 4.3 million fewer visitors this year, adding up to a loss of $7.4 billion in revenue. If Trump really wants to “make America great again,” he should give up his “extreme vetting” charade and make the country more, not less, welcoming to travelers.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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