Trump’s ban: It’s not about national security

Walden Bello
Trump’s ban: It’s not about national security
Instead of saying the Philippine government will respect Trump’s recent order, Malacañang should speak out publicly against it, in order to blunt the momentum of an exclusionary regime that will eventually affect its citizens

President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States even if they are already permanent residents has nothing to do with national security. Visa holders, refugees, and US permanent residents from these countries are already the people most tightly vetted by US immigration and intelligence authorities, so it is hard to understand how Trump’s move will bring added security.

What this is all about is not national security but immigration. It is the opening salvo of Trump’s determined effort to make religion a criterion for becoming part of American society. Whenever he pronounced the three words “radical Islamic terrorist” during his presidential campaign, he always put the stress on the second word, “Islamic,” and continually attacked former President Obama’s refusal to dignify his demagogic effort to promote the idea that Islam promotes terrorism..  

Trump’s is a politics of exclusion, and immigration policy is his most direct method of carrying this out. 

He is building a wall to keep out Mexican workers, but let’s face it, Mexican for him and his followers does not only refer to Mexicans but to all Latinos. When he attacks China for what he considers unfair trading practices, he’s not just talking about trade. China is also a codeword for the stereotypical crafty Asian taking advantage of the American people. Even children get it, as Asian American youngsters taunted by their peers at school would testify. 

Trump’s immigration policy, security policy, and trade policy are all intertwined, and the lynchpin of the package is fear of the other, that is fear of those who are non-White and non-Christian. He is both a creator and a creature of the new nativist movement that draws deep from the wellsprings of American prejudices about Latinos, Asians, Blacks, and Muslims. It is a movement fed by what he and his followers regard as a cataclysmic event: that in a few more years, white Americans will no longer be the majority of the population.

Brace for more

Trump will issue more executive orders on immigration and he is sure to push for comprehensive immigration legislation. But even if these fail or are delayed, it must be stressed that current immigration procedures and legislation already provide him with a lot of power to practice his exclusionary politics. 

Immigration policy and processes are extraordinarily susceptible to subjective assessments and informal rules whatever the book says. Anyone who has applied for a visa to go the United States knows that you are at the mercy of your interviewer and prey to his or her quirks, biases, and moods. Everyone takes it for granted that there are quotas for different categories of people, even when those quotas are not officially or formally set. 

NO TO BAN. A protest rally at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP

Race, class, and ethnicity are not supposed to matter in assessing one’s qualifications to migrate to the United States, but everyone knows that at the top of the preferred migrants or visitors are those from the Anglosphere, and that if you are non-white and not from the elite, you are way down the list of possible entrants, unless you have a skill assessed as valuable to the US economic machine. 

And Trump wants to take away even that channel with his plan to eliminate the H1B visa that allows people with specialty occupations to work in the US.  Already highly discretionary in practice, immigration procedures will become even more discretionary under Trump.

How about the Philippines?

The Philippines is not on the list of seven countries. Yet. We must remember that during his presidential campaign, Trump identified the Philippines as a haven for terrorists and among the priority countries that he would put on a blacklist. 

But even without the Philippines being on that list, you can bet that anybody with a Muslim name applying to enter the US will find it much harder to enter the America than one with a Christian name. With Trump’s overt anti-Muslim stance fortifying the anti-Muslim prejudices of many in the US immigration bureaucracy, it is likely that if you are a young Muslim male from Mindanao, you would be pigeonholed by your interviewer as a potential security threat unless you can prove otherwise.

And, as some have found, even if you do get a visa, you are not guaranteed entry: you can be put into what is called secondary screening and depending on the subjective judgment of your interviewer, you may be refused entry at the airport.

There are thousands of Filipino Muslims who live in the US and they and their relatives go back and forth between the two countries. Their right to travel faces severe curtailment if the new immigration regime goes forward.

This is why instead of saying the Philippine government will respect Trump’s recent order, Malacañang should speak out publicly against it, in order to blunt the momentum of an exclusionary regime that will eventually affect its citizens. Filipino Muslims deserve no less from their government. –

(Walden Bello was chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Overseas Workers from 2010 to 2015. He is currently a senior research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of Kyoto UniversityHe has been put into secondary screening by US immigration officials at most times that he has entered the United States owing to his record of arrests in the US while opposing the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.) 

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