On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of President Trump’s Muslim ban can indeed be enforced. Specifically, the court ruled that the government may not bar those with a “bona fide” connection to the United States — those who have a job here, family members here, or are enrolled at an American university — while also ruling that the lower courts had overstepped their bounds by completely blocking the original Executive Order.
The fight over the Muslim ban is far from over, however. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case when it reconvenes in October, and the court also made it clear that they “fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments.” If you’ll recall, back in January when the Executive Order was signed, the Trump administration claimed its purpose was to decrease the probability of foreign terrorists entering the United States from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. You know, the countries of origin of all the 9/11 hijackers… with the exception of all the 9/11 hijackers.
(As an aside, you’ll note I’m calling it a Muslim ban and not a travel ban. I am simply using Trump’s own words.)
To be clear, I am not advocating that the United States open its doors to any manner of potential terrorists — though I am a liberal, I am firmly in the “terrorism is bad” camp. That said, however, I think it’s worth taking a look at some facts here.
First, as noted above, the stated purpose of the Muslim ban was to allow the Trump administration time to develop “extreme vetting” procedures; moreover, the administration claimed that the ban would only be for 90 days. The order was signed 152 days ago. Hasn’t this administration had plenty of time to develop whatever procedures they feel are necessary to stem the apparent tidal wave of terrorists gaining entry into our country? You could argue that the ongoing legal battle essentially reset the clock, but I would offer a couple of points in response. To begin with, the Executive branch’s legal team were not going to be the ones crafting these “extreme vetting” procedures; it was entirely possible for the relevant members of Trump’s administration to put together these procedures while the court battles played themselves out. Furthermore, though Trump’s order was blocked by the lower courts, those courts didn’t mention anything about the procedures themselves — their issue was whether or not the ban discriminated against Muslims (it does).
Second, we still have no idea what “extreme vetting” means. No clarification has been offered by the Trump administration, nor does one appear to be forthcoming. It seems as though the reason nothing has been accomplished since Trump signed this order is because Trump’s plan for “extreme vetting” was to bar Muslims from entering the United States at all. It would explain why new procedures are not in place (aside from the fact that the existing procedures were already pretty damned extreme): the Muslim ban was the procedure.
But perhaps most importantly, barring Muslims from entering the United States will not do anything to reduce our risk of a terrorist attack. According to The Heritage Foundation, between 1969 and 2009, there were 38,345 terrorist incidents around the world. Of these attacks, only 7.8% involved the United States. From 1975 through 2015, per the Cato Institute, 3,024 Americans died as a result of foreign-born terrorism (including 9/11), an average of 74 Americans per year.
Since 9/11, however, foreign-born terrorists have killed, on average, one American per year. According to Business Insider, your odds of dying at the hands of foreign-born terrorists are 1 in 45,808, and your odds of dying at the hands of refugee terrorists (like those from Syria) are 1 in 46 million. You might be wondering, “Well, what about terrorists who enter the country illegally?” One in more than 138 million (138,324,873, to be exact). Statistically, you have higher odds of dying from a heat wave (about 4.5 times more likely), a bicycle accident (about 10 times more likely), or walking (68 times more likely). Simply put, the Trump administration’s Muslim ban seeks to rectify a problem that barely exists, while also supporting a bill that would limit an individual’s access to healthcare to treat heart disease and cancer (both 6,500 times more likely), chronic lung disease (1,700 times more likely), diabetes (864 times more likely)… you get the point.
And what of domestic Islamic terrorists? Well, since they’re not included in the Muslim ban, they’re not really part of the argument. But just to cover all the bases, according to The New York Times, from 2001-2011, an average of 9 American Muslims per year were involved in an average of six plots per year. Of those 60 plots, 40 were uncovered and thwarted before they could be carried out; the 20 that were carried out resulted in 50 deaths. That number pales in comparison to the 337 attacks carried out by right-wing extremists in the same time period, resulting in 254 fatalities, and it seems downright laughable when compared to the 215,000 murders in the United States from 2001-2015.
I’m all for ensuring that everyone in this country is safe. But it seems to me that we should reevaluate exactly how much time and resources we should allocate to combating a problem — terrorism originating from foreign-born actors —that barely registers as one at all.