As Usual, Trump and His Critics Are Both Over the Top

Today’s news was dominated by Donald Trump’s proposal–if you can dignify it as such–to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. I filled in for part of the Laura Ingraham show today, and no one wanted to talk about anything else. All day, emails have been coming in from various Democratic Party organizations with petitions to force Paul Ryan to denounce Trump, and the like. And liberal commentators have alleged that Trump’s plan would be illegal or unconstitutional.

As so often happens, Trump appears to have been talking off the top of his head without having thought through his proposal. He quickly had to walk it back in part, acknowledging that Muslims who are American citizens and happen to be out of the country when his decree takes effect would have to be let back in (assuming they didn’t leave to fight with ISIS). Beyond that, while I think, as Paul does, that Trump’s plan would be legal, I also think it would be unworkable as well as needless to ban all entry by Muslims.

First, there is no reason to bar Muslims from coming to the U.S. as tourists or, for example, to participate in an academic conference. Second, it would be unworkable to try to vet all people who enter the U.S. in the space of a year–a huge number–to determine whether they are Muslims. Inevitably, implementation would be on an honor system, which would render the supposed prohibition worthless.

There is, however, a simple and practical alternative to Trump’s overbroad approach. The president could suspend all immigration from Muslim-majority countries. There is no doubt that such action would be lawful. Unlike so many of President Obama’s executive actions, such a suspension is specifically authorized by Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which provides:

(f)Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. …

Exceptions could be made for Christians and others who are fleeing religious persecution.

Whether it is a good idea to suspend immigration from predominantly Islamic countries is debatable on the merits. But this alternative is plainly legal, is entirely workable, requires no inquiry into any individual’s religious beliefs (except to the extent that refugees’ cases are considered), and could be implemented tomorrow if President Obama signed the necessary proclamation.

If hysteria on both sides subsides, this approach could lead to a healthy discussion of several immigration issues. Such a discussion could start with the question, why do we need immigrants from, for example, Pakistan? Why are we better off with them than without them? What are the costs and benefits? How well have such immigrants assimilated in the recent past? How is such immigration affecting American workers?

Sadly, the immigration debate these days is dominated by voices on both sides that are hyperbolic, bordering on the hysterical.