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We Asked Immigration Experts How Trump's Muslim Ban Would Actually Work

The consensus: It probably wouldn't.
June 15, 2016, 4:00am
Donald Trump delivers a national security speech at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday, June 13, 2016. Photo by Jim Cole/AP Photo

On Monday, the day after the deadliest mass shooting in the history of American mass shootings, likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gave a speech that was, ostensibly, about his plans for fighting domestic terrorism, and their comparative greatness to those of his presumptive Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. In reality, though, the speech—like almost everything Trump says—was really about immigration.


Finetuning his previous calls for a ban on Muslim immigration, Trump declared that if elected president, he would have "the power to suspend entry into the country of any class of persons," and that he would use that power to keep out anyone from "areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States."

Practically speaking, Trump explained, that means blocking the entry of "radical Islamic terrorists"—people who, as he put it, "enslave women and murder gays" and are "trying to take over our children."

"Radical Islam is coming to our shores," he warned. "And it's coming. With these folks, it's coming." All told, it was the most aggressive 30 minutes of fearmongering we've seen so far this election cycle, laden with harsh attacks on Hillary Clinton and dubious, if darkly worded, claims about the US immigration system. In the days since, Trump's opponents—including a fiery Barack Obama—have loudly condemned his remarks. Even Trump's own party doesn't seem to quite know what to do with a presumptive nominee who thinks "banning Muslims" is an effective national security strategy.

Trump, though, seems pretty set on the idea. So to find out what his proposals might look like in practice, I got in touch with two experts on immigration—Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute's office at New York University School of Law, and David Martin, an immigration policy consultant and professor of international law at the University of Virginia—to get their insight on Trump's remarks. The interviews, which took place separately, have been excerpted below, and edited for length and clarity.


VICE: Let's say Donald Trump is elected president. How easy would it be for him to push his immigration ban forward?
David Martin: First of all, there would be considerable resistance in many other quarters. And there might be efforts in Congress to deny funding for certain kinds of policies, particularly ones that might have a huge impact on powerful American constituencies. There would be some of that before the final shape of the implemented policy would take place.

Let's assume Trump's plan moves forward. Can it really be implemented?
Martin: The actual implementation would be no more immigration from countries "A through T" until we get this figured out. Then that's really easy—just close down our immigration offices in those countries. What would be really hard for the US secretary of state is that there would be incredible diplomatic blowback on so many fronts. They would impose travel bans in retaliation against us.

What would they be so mad about?
Martin: There would be American business leaders and people who travel [in those countries], people who have family there, cross-national marriages. There would be enormous pushback from several constituencies in the US, as long as you are not picking just on countries that we have no ties to, like North Korea or Yemen. And he's talking about going much further than that.

Which country would you expect to make the most noise?
Martin: Saudi Arabia—the energy situation. It boggles the mind to think of the diplomatic complications that would follow. Put yourself in the shoes of the [Saudi] king. Would it be like, "Oh, of course. We understand, Donald"? No! One of their first moves would be great limits on immigration by Americans. Then limits on business affiliations and any kind of commercial deals.


I don't know enough about the details of those to know how it would go, but it would be treated as grossly offensive. There would be huge calls within those countries for drastic measures in response. That's the kind of blowback the State Department would have to deal with.

Would there be other headaches for the State Department?
Muzaffar Chishti: You could say a number of groups in [the Russian state of] Chechnya are terrorists, so everyone who comes from Russia is coming from an area of terrorism? There's clearly evidence of terrorist activity in France against US citizens. Should we say we should ban everyone from France?

His specific plan so far involves barring entry from areas where there's a "proven history of terrorism" against the US. Don't we already have similar measures in place for some countries?
Chishti: Any European who comes to the US who has been to Iran in the last five years is going to need a visa. So we have already put in some of these rules. War-targeted policies based on sort of generalized associations with countries are part of our [existing immigration] policy.

There was an immigration provision in the 2002 Homeland Security Act that Congress passed after the September 11 attacks. How did that work out?
Chishti: We had established that al Qaeda was the entity that attacked us on 9/11, so that was the rationale for it. We picked twenty-five countries [and made people register]—twenty-four of them happened to be what we call predominantly Muslim countries.

[But] the basic conclusion was that it did not add any element to our national security. It did not flag any people that were seen as directly related to terrorist threats. About four people were apprehended and investigated as a result of national security. Charges against all of those were dropped, to my memory. So that was the most recent example, and it was widely seen as a failure.

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