[NOTE: Last night I wrote a draft for a new post about the 9th Circuit hearing concerning the TRO against Trump’s immigration EO. When I was finished, though, I found that it was enormous and contained enough material for about twenty separate posts on twenty separate related topics.
Well, I’m not going to be writing them today. And to top it all off, I’m extra-busy this afternoon. So I’m just going to dash off this one about one of those related topics, and it won’t be as thorough as I’d like it to be. I might add a few more of them this evening, depending on how inspired and energetic I’m feeling.]
One of the many issues raised by critics of Trump’s immigration EO is that it deals with seven countries, but those countries have not historically been the vectors of terrorism in the US. “Why not Saudi Arabia?” they cry. “After all, that was the country of origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers.”
True, but irrelevant. No one is claiming that the seven countries have been the origins of all or most of the terrorist attacks that have ever occurred in this country. Nor is that a necessary claim to make in order to consider the focus of the EO to be valid. 9/11 happened over fifteen years ago, and events—and the probable sources of present-day Islamicist terrorism, and probably future terrorism as well—have changed somewhat.
The seven countries were not chosen by President Trump. They were designated by President Obama and adopted by Trump, and no one (or very few people) raised an eyebrow at Obama’s choices at the time. And of course, those people who criticize Trump by pointing out that quite a few recent terrorists have been citizens are also mentioning something that isn’t particularly relevant, because our control over citizens is far less (we can’t deport a citizen we suspect of being a terrorist, for example). And the fact that some citizens are becoming terrorists does not mean that newcomers can’t be (or become) terrorists as well.
Trump’s EO is not just aimed at arrivals from the seven countries, either, it’s aimed at certain current legal residents who have recently visited any of the seven countries (which are places for terrorist training and ISIS connections), and those holding dual European citizenship as well as citizenship from one of those countries. In other words, the EO is designed to make sure that a dual French-Somalian citizen cannot come here for the moment; under Trump’s temporary EO he/she would be stopped for 90 days until new vetting rules are devised. At least, that’s my present understanding.
Those who advance the “include Saudi Arabia” argument are doing so for the most part with the knowledge that this isn’t going to happen, for practical reasons. Saudi Arabia is a country with which we have a completely different diplomatic and in particular economic relationship than we do with, say, Somalia. Now, you might think a Saudi ban would be a good idea, and perhaps Trump’s final vetting system will include a different type of vetting than at present for Saudis as well (I don’t know what the current vetting entails, or if it is inadequate). But, realistically speaking, Trump chose the 7 countries because they already had been designated by Obama and because our ties with them were not especially friendly.
However, there is one thing that is relevant about 9/11 and the Trump EO: the hijackers came here legally on visas:
All of them entered the country legally on a temporary visa, mostly tourist visas with entry permits for six months. Although four of them attended flight school in the United States, only one is known to have entered on an appropriate visa for such study, and one entered on an F-1 student visa. Besides the four pilots, all but one of the terrorists entered the United States only once and had been in the country for only three to five months before the attacks.
The four pilots had been in the United States for extended periods, although none was a legal permanent resident. Some had received more than one temporary visa, most of which were currently valid on September 11, but at least three of them had fallen out of status and were, therefore, in the United States illegally.
The terrorists had obtained U.S. identification that was used for boarding flights in the form of Florida, Virginia, California and New Jersey driver’s licenses/ID cards. One of the terrorists, Mohamed Atta, was detained in Florida for driving without a license, but subsequently obtained one. Thirteen of the terrorists had Florida driver’s licenses or ID cards, seven had Virginia driver’s licenses, at least two had California licenses and two had New Jersey driver’s licenses. According to the March 28, 2002 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Robert Thibadeau, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Internet Security laboratory, says that “the 19 terrorists on Sept. 11 were holding 63 state driver’s licenses for identification.”
(I’ve written a previous post about the visa issue and 9/11.)
We are indeed fortunate that there has not been any large-scale attack here subsequent to the 9/11 horrors. There are many theories as to why, but in this country most of the terrorists lately have been of the supposedly “lone wolf” type—and some of those arrested have indeed been from the seven countries (see this and this). It is also important and relevant to note that the seven countries feature in the history of many recent Islamicist terrorist attacks in Europe, and that although patterns there are somewhat different from here, they are not so very different than we can or should ignore that fact.