Immigration Ban: “malevolence & incompetence”

No such thing
as innocent

-Seamus Heaney

Dr. Seuss cartoon from 1941. Recognize that t-shirt slogan?

There’s a reason Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order (EO) on immigration (here, with annotation) is getting its own blog post: there’s a lot of ground to cover here. I think this is really important, though, so I hope you spend some time reading through these links. (Seriously: I spent 10 hours putting this post together, the least you can do is read the whole thing to the end!) I’m going to do my best to have everything broken up into coherent subcategories.

I think it’s important to begin with some context, to try to understand a bit about refugees and the current refugee vetting process.

If you only have time to click on one link from this update, please, please, PLEASE PICK THIS ONE and listen to this week’s episode of This American Life: It’s Working Out Very Nicely

I also highly, highly recommend listening to these podcasts as well:

In print media, I recommend checking out these sites for background context on refugees, the current global refugee crisis, and how refugees get to the US:

I think it is also important to learn a bit about terrorism threats in the US before we dive into Trump’s EO:



After doing this background reading, let’s move on to what actually happened over the past two weeks. The information following is summarized from this timeline from ABC News. An additional CNN timeline can be found here.

On Friday, Jan 27, Donald Trump signed an executive order named “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This order immediately barred admission to the US of all people with non-immigrant or immigrant visas from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days. It also barred entry to all refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days, and placed an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria.

This order was immediately followed by chaos in airports across the country, as protests against the ban broke out in airports in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, Washington D.C, Raleigh, Houston, Portland, Atlanta, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees and immigrants were detained at airports, caught in a “communications limbo between the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.”

On Jan. 28, a Federal Judge in Brooklyn, NY ruled that “people stuck in airports nationwide could not be forced back to their original destinations, writing that individuals subjected to the order could face ‘substantial and irreparable injury.’”

On Jan 29, Trump faced bipartisan criticism from the Senate. Federal lawsuits were filed in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington on behalf of those detained in airports in the US. Travelers overseas with visas from the countries named in the EO were turned away at airports. There was confusion within the US about details of the EO and whether or not it applied to those people who hold U.S. green cards.

On Feb. 3, one week later, a Federal District Judge from Washington state issued a restraining order to immediately halt the EO nationwide. That same day, the state of Hawaii filed a lawsuit asking the court to block implementation of the EO.

On Feb. 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an appeal against the restraining order with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Feb. 6, Washington state and Minnesota filed a brief arguing that the EO causes “irreparable harm” to “’businesses, schools, family relations and state residents’ freedom to travel” and that it is unconstitutional because it discriminates on the basis of religion.  A coalition of 18 Attorneys General (representing California, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia) filed amici curiae briefs in support of Washington and Minnesota. Briefs were also filed against the government by former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and John Kerry; former national security and foreign affairs officials Leon Panetta, Janet Napolitano, Lisa Monaco and Michael Hayden; and 96+ U.S. companies, including but not limited to Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Intel, Reddit, Netflix, Lyft, Kickstarter, PayPal, Microsoft, Spotify, Levi’s, Chobani, SpaceX and Tesla.

On Feb. 9, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled to deny the Department of Justice’s bid for an emergency stay.



The following articles flesh out the timeline a bit more.

From Jan 27, a New York Times article: “Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries

Key quote:

Announcing his “extreme vetting” plan, the president invoked the specter of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Most of the 19 hijackers on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pa., were from Saudi Arabia. The rest were from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon. None of those countries are on Mr. Trump’s visa ban list.

From Jan 28, a Washington Post article: “Countries where Trump does business are not hit by new travel restrictions

Key quote:

But without divesting from his company, as bipartisan ethics experts had advised, Trump is now facing questions about whether he designed the new rules with his own business at least partly in mind.


From Jan. 29, an article from the New York Times: “How Trump’s Rush to Enact an Immigration Ban Unleashed Global Chaos

Key quote:

“As President Trump signed a sweeping executive order on Friday, shutting the borders to refugees and others from seven largely Muslim countries, the secretary of homeland security was on a White House conference call getting his first full briefing on the global shift in policy.

Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, had dialed in from a Coast Guard plane as he headed back to Washington from Miami. Along with other top officials, he needed guidance from the White House, which had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.

Halfway into the briefing, someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,” the official said, stunned.

…“The details of it were not thought through,” said Stephen Heifetz, who served in the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, as well as the C.I.A., under the previous three presidents. “It is not surprising there was mass confusion, and I expect the confusion and chaos will continue for some time.”

From Jan 29, an article from The Atlantic: “An Army of Attorneys Descends on Dulles

Key quote:

Many of the people who showed up in the arrivals hall Saturday night—attorneys or demonstrators—were particularly shocked that green-card and visa holders were being detained. “They live here,” said [Judah] Ariel. “Permanently. I just can’t imagine being on a business trip or visiting a family member and, all of a sudden, finding out that, oh, by the way, you’re not allowed back home.”

From Jan 30, a Washington Post article: “Acting attorney general declares Justice Department won’t defend Trump’s immigration order

Key quote:

Customs agents at Dulles forced lawful permanent U.S. residents to give up their green cards this weekend, according to a complaint filed Monday in federal court in Alexandria. Tareq Aqel Mohammed Aziz and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz were flying from Yemen to the United States. Both had been granted immigrant visas because their father, who lives in Flint, Mich., is a U.S. citizen.

When they arrived at Dulles Saturday morning, the Aziz brothers were handcuffed and their immigration paperwork was seized, according to the complaint.

They were given documents to sign and allegedly told that if they did not, they would be removed from the United States and barred from coming back for five years. They were not allowed to see attorneys.

Under pressure, their attorneys said, they signed documents they did not understand, giving up their American visas, and agents stamped “cancelled” on those visas. Attorneys are asking for their visas to be returned, the forms they signed to be invalidated and for them to be returned to the United States.

Attorneys said they believe it is possible that many of 50 to 60 other legal permanent residents at Dulles were likewise tricked into giving up their status there.

From Jan. 30, an article from The Guardian: “Sally Yates fired by Trump after acting US attorney general defied travel ban

Key quote:

Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative and independent candidate in the 2016 presidential election, tweeted: “I salute the courage of @SallyQYates. May other Americans in the government have the same resolve when required.”

…[Yates] received bipartisan praise when she was appointed to the number two spot below Loretta Lynch at the justice department in 2015. [note: she was confirmed as Deputy A.G. by a Republican senate 84-12] The Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia said of her: “Sally Quillian Yates is a human being I have known for almost 40 years. For 25 years she has been the lead prosecutor in the northern district of Georgia. She has been an equal opportunity prosecutor. She’s prosecuted Democrats, Republicans, independents, Olympic park bombers, anybody that violated the public trust, any abuse of power.”

His fellow Republican, David Perdue, said of Yates: “I’m confident that she will bring an objective, apolitical approach to the justice department.”

Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, wrote in a letter to the Senate judiciary committee: “Sally has shown an ability to handle sensitive matters in a way that maintains the appropriate objectivity that is required of a federal prosecutor.”

Remarkably, Yates was asked in senate confirmation hearings what she would say to a president who wanted to do something unlawful – and the person who asked the question was Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general.

Sessions prefaced his question by telling Yates: “You have to watch out, because people will be asking you to do things you just need to say no about.

“Do you think the attorney general has a responsibility to say no to the president, if he asks for something that is improper? … If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?”

Yates told Sessions: “Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution, and to give their independent legal advice to the president.”

From Jan 31, an Associated Press article: “Diplomats defy White House warning, criticize travel ban

Key quote:

Dissent channel cables are a mechanism for U.S. diplomats to register disagreement internally about U.S. policies. It was established during the Vietnam War and was most recently used by diplomats to criticize the Obama administration’s approach to Syria. In that case, former Secretary of State John Kerry met with signers of the cable to discuss their concerns.

Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson is still awaiting Senate confirmation and it was unclear how he would respond to the memo.

In response to reports of the cable Monday, Spicer said of the diplomats: “They should either get with the program or they can go.”

He dismissed the criticism from what he called “career bureaucrats.” While he later said Trump appreciates the work of public servants, Spicer said they should respect the desires of the American people and the importance Trump places on protecting the country.

“If somebody has a problem with that agenda, that does call into question whether they should continue in that post or not,” Spicer said. “This is about the safety of America.”

Signers of dissent cables are supposed to be protected from retribution from superiors.

From Feb. 3, an article from the LA Times: Federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocks Trump’s immigration order nationwide

From Feb. 6, a CBC News article: “22 refugees entered Manitoba near Emerson border over the weekend”

Key quote:

The number of asylum seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border into Manitoba on foot instead of through official crossings has drastically increased in the last few months, said Rita Chahal, executive director of Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council.

From Feb. 8, an update from the ACLU: “ACLU & Other Groups Ask for Emergency Hearing on the Muslim Ban from International Human Rights Body

Okay, so! Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with the timeline of things that happened, let’s dive into some analysis.

If you only read one article from this section, let me direct you towards this post from Lawfare: Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence: Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees and Visas.

Let me also give you some context on the Lawfare blog. It is a blog that explores “that nebulous zone in which actions taken or contemplated to protect the nation interact with the nation’s laws and legal institutions …to include subjects as far-flung as cybersecurity, Guantánamo habeas litigation, targeted killing, biosecurity, universal jurisdiction, the Alien Tort Statute, the state secrets privilege and countless other related and not-so-related matters,” and its Masthead includes Benjamin Wittes (Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution), Robert Chesney (Charles I. Francis Professor in Law, University of Texas School of Law), Jack Goldsmith (Henry L. Shattuck Professor, Harvard Law School; Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution), Susan Hennessey (Fellow in National Security Law, The Brookings Institution), Jane Chong (National Security and Law Associate, The Hoover Institution), plus about 50 other contributors ranging from Professors of Law to working attorneys to the Director of the Cyber Security Project at the Harvard Kennedy School to Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown and Yale Law School students. I have been checking in on this blog often in recent weeks as I find they have a lot of interesting and insightful commentary on current events.

The article that I just directed you to, “Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence,” was written on Jan. 28 by the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, Benjamin Wittes. Wittes is by no means a bleeding heart liberal: in that article, he notes, “As readers of my work know, I believe in strong counterterrorism powers. I defend non-criminal detention. I’ve got no problem with drone strikes. I’m positively enthusiastic about American surveillance policies. I was much less offended than others were by the CIA’s interrogations in the years after September 11. I have defended military commissions.”

Here is what Benjamin Wittes has to say about Trump’s EO:

“Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.” [emphasis his]

I have a bunch more analysis articles for you to check out; I’m just going to make a bullet point list here:

[Pause for a brief interlude with Shouty Spice before we move on.]

Let’s talk next about Trump and the judiciary.

After Judge James Robart issued a restraining order against the EO on Feb. 4, Trump tweeted “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” (The “so-called judge” was a George W. Bush appointee who was confirmed by the Senate 99-0 in 2004, FYI).

He has gone after judges in the past – remember when he attacked US District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel during his campaign because of Curiel’s Mexican ancestry? – and continues to do so, tweeting on February 4 & 5:

What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!

I have instructed Homeland Security to check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult!

His words about the judiciary are troubling. Even Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, called his attacks “disheartening.” Trump’s inflammatory words are causing fear among judges for their safety, but even more importantly, the Executive branch is seemingly undermining the authority of the Judicial Branch (“A White House spokesperson defended the order Sunday, saying: “It is the right and duty of the President to do everything in his legal and constitutional power to protect the American people. Saturday’s ruling does not undercut the President’s executive order. All stopped visas will remain stopped. All halted admissions will remain halted. All restricted travel will remain prohibited. The executive order is a vital action toward strengthening America’s borders, and therefore sovereignty. The order remains in place,” the spokesperson said [after a federal judge had blocked the order].”) This article from Forbes does a good job of explaining some of the dangers Trump is flirting with; I recommend checking this article out, especially the statement from the Department of Homeland Security that they quote in its entirety.

There’s also this article from the Huffington Post about the state of Virginia filing a contempt motion against Trump for his failure to comply with a court order.

Brief interlude: David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and neoconservative commentator, is not pleased with Trump.



Kind of like his twitter war on the judiciary, Trump has a running war with the press. This is also seriously not cool, since healthy republics need a well-informed public.

It’s hard to have a well-informed public when your Administration is constantly lying, though! How is the public going to have an accurate understanding of the risks and rewards of refugee resettlement when the Counselor to the President goes on tv and MAKES UP A TERRORIST ATTACK to justify a Muslim ban?

Trump took the media to task recently, charging that they collectively undercover terrorism.





Key quote from that last article:

Intentionally or not, Conway’s “Bowling Green” fabrication and Trump’s claim of unreported attacks begin to create a pattern. The Trump administration has already asserted blatant lies as truth, then excused them as “alternative facts.” Together these new statements push toward a specific pre-debunking of any media coverage of terrorist attacks, and allowing Trump to push his own counternarrative.

Jack Goldsmith, a former top lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, argued that Trump’s attack on “so-called” Judge James Robart is a prelude to blaming the independent judiciary in the event of a deadly attack. If so, then Monday’s claim about the media could been seen as a prelude to scapegoating the press, too.

This section is about dissent.

There’s been lots and lots of dissent against Trump’s EO. Let’s break it down:

We’ve investigated what’s going on at a macro level. Now let’s turn our gaze towards the personal.

So why does this matter to me, personally? A lot of reasons. There’s my faith, which tells me:

  • “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34);
  • that “God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deut. 10:18-19);
  • “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9);
  • “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matt. 25:34-45);

  • “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14);
  • “He asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37)

The Mennonite flavor of my Christian faith also informs my understanding of immigration and refugees. Mennonite Central Committee’s statement on the travel ban explains some of this; so does this blog post on Anabaptist Historians.

There’s also the fact that I know people currently living in Iraq, and that I myself have spent a month living in Syria. There is the fact that I volunteer weekly in my current town of Harrisonburg, VA, with a literacy organization that helps a lot of refugee families; I have been spending almost two hours/week with refugees from Eritrea for almost 6 months.

I’m so proud that my two homes – Lancaster, PA, and Harrisonburg, VA – are both extremely welcoming of immigrants and refugee families. Lancaster has been in the news a lot recently for being the “refugee capital of the US.” You can find out more about Lancaster’s efforts to resettle refugees here:

Harrisonburg, my adopted hometown, has a surprisingly large immigrant population. You can read more about my city here:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

-warsan shire

One thought on “Immigration Ban: “malevolence & incompetence”

  1. This is such a remarkably thorough examination of the issues at stake! Thank you thank you thank you for compiling all of this information. I’m passing on this blog to some friends


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