Monday 30 January 2017

Donald Trump signs 'extreme vetting' executive order for people entering the US

Trump defends travel curbs despite outcry
Courts offer relief to detained visitors from several Muslim countries amid protests
By Nirmal Ghosh, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2017

US President Donald Trump yesterday defended his latest immigration curbs despite protests at major airports and mounting criticism from world leaders and countries affected by his executive order.

Mr Trump's order blocked citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen - from entering the US for at least 90 days. It also banned the entry of refugees from anywhere for 120 days and those from Syria indefinitely.

Mr Trump said the goal was to screen out "radical Islamic terrorists" and give priority for admission to Christians. He rejected accusations that the move amounted to a ban on Muslims.

"Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world - a horrible mess!" he tweeted, referring to the arrival of waves of immigrants in countries such as Germany.

Soon after the ban, federal courts in New York, Virginia and Washington states intervened to order the release of dozens of people from the seven countries carrying valid visas for the US who had been detained at airports following Mr Trump's executive order.

The court orders came as confusion reigned at airports in the Middle East and Europe over exactly which citizens from the seven nations are still allowed to fly to the US.

Many airports imposed blanket bans on US travel for those citizens, including permanent US residents holding green cards, many of whom found themselves stranded outside the country as they were prevented from boarding flights back.

Angry crowds descended on US airports - such as those in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco and Denver - to protest.

Reports said the broadly worded executive order was signed with little input from the Department of Homeland Security. But yesterday, the department said it would comply with the judicial decisions, while continuing to enforce the President's executive order.

"Prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the US government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety," the department said.

World leaders from Germany, France, Britain and Canada criticised Mr Trump's order and said their nations would not change their immigration policies.

Technology executives, human rights groups and Muslim leaders also spoke out against the ban.

But Mr Trump's supporters said it was necessary for the nation's security. Congressional Republicans largely fell behind Mr Trump, underlining the fact that the order was one of the campaign promises that got him into power.

Mr Su'ad Abdul Khabeer, an assistant professor of anthropology and African American studies at Purdue University in Indiana, wrote in a commentary: "Trump is continuing what he started on the campaign trail. He is tapping into the fear that breeds the kind of xenophobia that gets folks excited about walls and bans."

What's in Trump's executive order on immigration
The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2017

A look at US President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration and what it does and does not do.


• The order signed last Friday bars the entry of foreign nationals from certain countries for 90 days. While no countries are specifically named in the order, it refers to a statute that would apply to seven Muslim-majority nations: Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq. The order also affects permanent residents of the US who hold green cards. At a briefing for reporters on Saturday, White House officials said those who may have been travelling overseas on vacation or for work would need case-by-case waivers to return. The order also affects individuals of those seven countries who hold dual citizenship with another country, for instance, those who hold both Iraqi and Canadian citizenships. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security said it would continue to enforce the President's executive order, even while complying with judicial decisions on Saturday - such as those issued in Brooklyn, New York and Alexandria, Virginia - temporarily blocking parts of the order. The nationwide ruling by a judge in Brooklyn barred refugees and visa holders already legally in the US from being turned back. The separate judicial order in Alexandria forbids the government from removing about 60 legal permanent residents of the United States being detained at Dulles International Airport.

• The executive order also calls for the temporary halt of all refugee admissions for four months so the government can study the process and determine if additional checks are necessary, although there will be case-by-case exceptions.

• The order implements a blanket ban on all Syrian refugees until "sufficient changes" have been made to the refugee programme, without giving more details. After the suspension is lifted, the government will give priority to applicants who are suffering religion-based prosecution, but only if they are minorities in their country. Once refugee admissions resume, fewer will be allowed in. The 2017 cap was set at 50,000 people, compared with 85,000 designated by President Barack Obama for 2016. In a nod to certain states and cities that have objected to refugee resettlement, the order also seeks to give state and local jurisdictions a role in deciding whether or not to allow people to live there.


Anyone with US citizenship, whether that person is natural-born or naturalised. There is also an exception for certain types of visas, including for diplomats, people travelling to the United Nations in New York and others involved in international organisations.


It cited the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks, saying: "The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States.

"Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinising the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans."

However, most of the 19 hijackers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, were from Saudi Arabia.

The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries is on Mr Trump's visa ban list.




Quebec City mosque shooting forces Canadians to confront intolerance
The Straits Times, 1 Feb 2017

QUEBEC CITY • In a world often hostile to migration, Canada has stood out, welcoming refugees fleeing war and seeking a haven. It has been a feel-good time for Canada, proud of its national tolerance.

On Sunday, that was upended when a man walked into Quebec City's mosque and started shooting, killing six people and seriously wounding five others. The alleged gunman, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, was charged on Monday with six counts of murder.

The nation quickly rallied after the attack. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it an act of terrorism, and there was a collective outpouring of remorse and empathy.

But the attack also forced Canadians to confront growing intolerance and extremism that have taken root, particularly among some people in this French-speaking corner of the country.

It was also a wrenching event for a country not accustomed to mass killings and even less used to the acrimonious immigration debate that has echoed from across the United States. Before Sunday, many Canadians were watching the immigration ban introduced by US President Donald Trump with fascination and, for the most part, disgust.

Yet, the killings are a tear in the fabric of a nation in transformation, where about one million of its population of 35 million are Muslims.

"Canada took in roughly 30,000 Syrian refugees in a three-month period - proportionate to the US taking in 225,000 over that time," said Mr David Harris, a lawyer and a director at Insignis Strategic Research, a counterterrorism consultancy. "These are dramatic developments in the life of any nation."

The shooting was the first time anyone was killed in a mosque in Canada in such circumstances and was, at least in recent times, a rare event outside the Muslim world.

Yet, Quebec has a history of confrontations with the Muslim community. In 2005, the province became the first to explicitly ban the use of Syariah law and, less than a decade later, the provincial government tried to pass a "charter of values" that would have banned provincial employees from wearing Muslim headscarves and other "overt" religious symbols.

Quebec City, home to some 7,000 Muslims, is a conservative bastion within the province and home to right-leaning radio talk shows that push an anti-Islam agenda - unusual for Canadian broadcasters.

Mr Mohammed Amin, who is in charge of social activities at the attacked mosque, said the community had a "cordial relationship" with its neighbours.

But other leaders at the mosque said there have been hate letters and swastikas painted on its door, episodes that led to the installation of eight security cameras.

"Certainly Islamophobia has been increasing for some time," said Mr Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum.

Ms Lise Lavary, a columnist for tabloid Journal de Montreal, said it may be time for the debate to calm down.

"I am a very vocal opponent of Islamism, and I realise now that whenever I condemn ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), a lot of people view this as me condemning every Muslim on earth," she said.

"Self-censorship looms for the common good."



Amid protests, ban draws support from Trump base
The Straits Times, 1 Feb 2017

NEW YORK • Mr Sal Oliva, a hotel worker from Staten Island in New York, is ecstatic about United States President Donald Trump's executive order. So is Mr Michael Bower, owner of a Seattle home alarm firm.

Mr Trump's immigration policy may be setting off protests around the US and raising eyebrows and objections among allies abroad. But at home, a large portion of the electorate is behind him. For all the outrage the order has stirred, including among some Republicans, two recent polls found that a plurality of Americans support some type of suspension of immigration.

Mr Trump's supporters say the promise of tougher immigration policies is one of the main reasons they voted for him.

"I was so happy," said Mr Oliva, 32. He is gay, and said he was deeply affected by the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida by an American of Afghan descent. "That one really got to me. That could have been me."

Mr Trump has tapped into a deep anxiety that is a relatively recent feature of modern US politics: Terrorism from abroad.

His detractors argue that his actions are not borne out by facts. Since Sept 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States by an immigrant - or the son or daughter of an immigrant - from any of the seven countries in the 90-day visa ban he has just ordered.

A vast majority of killings overall happened at the hands of native-born Americans. Some recent attacks in which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was invoked were carried out by Muslims born in the US.

But emotions are powerful forces, and much of what people know comes from smartphone and tablet screens showing a stream of news of terrorist attacks that feel threatening even if they are far away.

"I don't begrudge my peograndma, who has never met a Muslim in her life but all she sees on TV are Muslims blowing things up," said Mr Bower. "It is not irrational that people are worried."

Each person sees the policy through the lens of personal experience. For Mr Bower, 35, it evokes his stepsister, whose husband works in Manhattan and was there during the Sept 11, 2001, attacks. Even now, Mr Bower said, she is scared every day her husband goes to work.

Mr Bower said he voted for Mr Trump largely to avoid voting for Mrs Hillary Clinton. He said that although he would not support Mr Trump unconditionally, the immigration order did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that by a ratio of 48 per cent to 42 per cent, voters supported "suspending immigration from 'terror prone' regions, even if it means turning away refugees from those regions".

And a December Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll found that 50 per cent of Americans favoured "banning future immigration from regions where there are active terrorist groups".


What are executive orders and what force do they have in US politics?
By Bryan Cranston, Published The Straits Times, 1 Feb 2017

United States President Donald Trump has signed a flurry of executive orders and actions in his first week-and-a-half in office. These have ranged from those starting the process to build a border wall with Mexico and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.

But the executive order that has gained the most attention is the one that suspends the processing of all visa applications for people from seven Muslim-majority nations, and temporarily halts America's refugee intake.

But what are executive orders? And what power does Mr Trump wield with them?


The governing principle of the US government is the "separation of powers". The US has three separate branches of government: the executive (the president), the legislature (Congress) and the judiciary (including the Supreme Court).

As president, Mr Trump is the head of the executive branch. This encompasses federal Cabinet departments and the military. The executive is responsible for implementing the laws Congress approves. The judicial branch ensures these laws align with the US Constitution.

The president does have limitations on his power, however. The president may not authorise action in an area in which Congress has constitutional authority without congressional approval. For example, while the president can call for taxes to be raised or lowered, only Congress can approve such an action.

Notably, the president cannot declare war. The president can, however, authorise military action short of a war declaration. In such cases, Congress' role becomes one of oversight: It approves funds to support these military activities.


Executive orders stem from Sections 2 and 3 of Article 2 of the US Constitution. This states: The executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States.

An executive order is essentially a directive from the president about how he wants federal agencies of the executive branch that report to him to use their resources to implement and execute the laws approved by Congress, as interpreted by the administration.


Congress has no role in approving an executive order, nor can it overturn such an order.

If Congress does not like an executive order, then its only option is to pass a new law limiting the order's specific actions, and/or limit/end funding for the order's implementation. But any such law will need two-thirds majority support in the Senate to be safe from the president's ability to veto legislation.

If Congress does not act, or is unsuccessful in changing the law, then the other option is to challenge the legality of the executive order in the courts.

If a court rules an executive order illegal or unconstitutional, then the president would almost certainly appeal against that decision in the Supreme Court.

If the appeal is unsuccessful because the executive order deviates from "congressional intent", or is seen to exceed the president's constitutional powers, then the implementation of the order in that form must cease.

If, however, the Supreme Court upholds the order, it can remain in place until Congress changes the law.


Although Mr Trump appears to be issuing many executive orders, he has issued only one more than Mr Barack Obama did during his first week in office in January 2009.

During his eight years in office, Mr Obama signed 276 executive orders - slightly fewer than Mr George W. Bush's 291.

In contrast, two other recent two-term presidents, Mr Bill Clinton and Mr Ronald Reagan, signed 364 and 381 respectively.

These numbers are dwarfed by the 3,721 executive orders authorised by Franklin D. Roosevelt during his 12 years in office.


Executive orders are instructions to federal agencies to implement approved laws in accordance with the inclinations and political leanings of an administration. Hence, they have the power to be socially transformative.

Notable examples include Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which stated "all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward shall be, free", and Harry Truman's 1948 order that authorised the desegregation of the armed forces.

On his second day in office in 2009, Mr Obama rescinded his predecessor's authorisation for the Central Intelligence Agency to use waterboarding as a method of interrogation.

Perhaps the executive order that most resembles Mr Trump's temporary suspension of visas to citizens of certain Muslim-majority states is Roosevelt's 1945 creation of Japanese internment camps.

At the time, the law authorised the US government to remove any people from military areas as deemed necessary or desirable.

During the 1940s, the majority of US residents of Japanese citizenship or ancestry lived on the west coast.

So, with fear gripping the nation post-Pearl Harbour, Roosevelt designated the entire west coast as a military area. This enabled the military to summarily detain and forcibly relocate more than 110,000 residents based on ethnicity.

This executive order was found to have been based on racism, with little evidence of a Japanese threat.

It resulted in the Reagan administration paying out almost US$2 billion in compensation in 1988.


Although congressional Democrats have been vocal in opposing most of Mr Trump's executive orders, they appear to have little support from Republicans to enact the legislation needed to change them.

Congressional Republicans are more critical of Mr Trump's visa-suspension order.

Several senior senators, including Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain and Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, have called for an immediate change in administration policy.

However, to date, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan appear unwilling to support a congressional challenge to Mr Trump's authority.

This leaves the courts.

Mr Trump's visa-suspension authorisation is facing a swathe of legal action. The American Civil Liberties Union and 15 state attorneys-general (and one Republican governor) have launched legal action to stop the order. It is almost certain to end up in the Supreme Court because if any of the challenges are successful, then the administration will appeal - as will the plaintiffs if they are unsuccessful.

The court's ideological leanings are currently four liberal members, three conservative members and one "swing" vote - with one vacancy. This means the best-case scenario for Mr Trump is a tied vote, which would then revert to the original federal court decision.

The writer is a PhD candidate in politics and history at Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

This article first appeared in, a website of analysis from academics and researchers.


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