The president claimed that his actions would “save thousands and thousands of lives.”
But, of course, we won’t ever know the effect these measures will have on public safety. We can’t know how many crimes would have occurred had these policies not been implemented. The president aims to fix that as well, creating a new public‐relations office to call attention to crimes committed by foreign‐born persons here illegally. This will surely heighten the sense among many Americans that all foreign‐born men and women pose an urgent threat.
The facts show otherwise. Based on the number of violent crimes committed by immigrants, we should expect that making it harder for people to come here will have, at best, a negligible impact on the crime rate. The terrorism danger posed by refugees, in particular, is vanishingly small: an American has a 1 in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by a refugee in any given year, according to Cato’s Nowrasteh.
But, barely a week into Donald Trump’s term as president, we have already seen that his administration struggles with the facts, or prefers certain facts that serve their policy preferences over those that do not. In that sense, the Steve Bannons of the world might argue that the mainstream media spends too much time focusing on the mass murders perpetrated by deranged, sadistic, pasty‐faced, native‐born men, so the Trump administration’s decision to focus on murders committed by foreigners will merely balance the scales.
That there is no compelling reason for these policies on security grounds hasn’t deterred the new administration from pursuing them. They simply want fewer people to come to the United States. In that interview with ABC News, President Trump stated, “It’s going to be very hard to come in. . . . Right now it’s very easy to come in. It’s gonna be very, very hard.”
Anyone who has encountered the current U.S. immigration system would likely quarrel with that latter “easy” claim, but we shouldn’t miss the implications of the former.
A similar mindset turned away untold numbers of Jews desperate to flee Hitler’s terror during World War II. Many Jews did come to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in part to flee anti‐Semitic pogroms. One wonders if Donald Trump thinks it was a mistake to let them in.
Foreign‐born scientists were instrumental in the building of the atomic bomb during World War II, and recent immigrants to the United States have developed some of America’s greatest innovations, or started our most successful companies. Trump’s message to all of these people, and millions more like them, is that they should take their talents elsewhere.
He is equally dismissive of the sacrifices of immigrants, or the children of immigrants, in our armed forces, as his shameful assault on the Khan family during the campaign revealed. (Kudos to the Department of Defense press office for sending around the story of Iraqi‐born Marine Cpl. Ali J. Mohammed.)
The fear of, and intimidation toward, immigrants in the United States—especially Muslim immigrants—has been building for some time. But I worry that we are on the precipice of something much worse. We are witnessing a concerted effort by the Trump administration to distance Americans from the rest of the world, both literally and figuratively.
Ronald Reagan taught us that great countries don’t build walls; they tear them down. Trump’s isolationism won’t make us safer. It will, however, make us poorer—economically and culturally—if it ends up stifling the voluntary and peaceful interactions that have made America great since its founding.