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Here Is Why People Are Freaking Out about Trump’s Travel Ban when Obama Did (sort of) the Same Thing

by Michael Austin, published

Let’s all stop pretending that we are arguing about a simple administrative moratorium on entry visas and whether or not Obama did, or did not do the same thing in 2011. Because we aren’t.

Oh, the point, which

on-line fact-checkers rate as “mostly false,” is certainly debatable. Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not the two travel bans are similar enough to warrant a comparison. On one hand, the Obama administration did halt the processing of some Iraqi visas for six months, resulting in a slowed (but not stopped) immigration from that country during the period of the moratorium. That much is true.

But there are a lot of differences in the two cases too. The Obama ban responded to a specific threat. Two Iraqi immigrants were found to have had verifiable ties to a terror organization. The slowdown was announced with the intention to change a very specific set of procedures in processing refugee visas. And it did not affect existing visas for immigrants and permanent residents. These are not trivial differences between the policies. They are more than capable of accounting for the different reactions.

But they don’t.

If people thought that Trump’s executive order really was just a temporary administrative slowdown to allow us to review visa policies from potentially hostile nations, I doubt that there would be any protests at all. Even the affect that the order is having on current green-card holders, which is not trivial, would probably not have prompted large demonstrations if people didn’t think that this was the first step on the road to a much more comprehensive ban on Muslim immigrants.

People were pretty sure that this was not Obama’s intention with the Iraq travel ban. People are pretty sure that it is Trump’s intention with the current executive order. And this does not require conspiratorial, slippery-slope thinking, since Trump has been telling us for two years that he wants a much more comprehensive ban on Muslim immigration. It was part of the platform upon which he was elected. He has made no secret of the fact that this is what he wants to do.

If the idea really were to fix vetting processes that weren’t working, I suspect that we would have seen some evidence that the vetting processes weren’t working. We have seen no such thing. Neither, I suspect, has Donald Trump, who has already made his contempt for the CIA (who might normally be expected to provide such evidence) quite clear and who overruled his own Department of Homeland Security on the question of including current green-card holders in the travel ban. Nobody has offered anything that even minimally counts as evidence that current visa holders from these seven countries pose more of a threat to Americans than, say, Canadians do.

Most people, I think, would ultimately agree that the current travel ban is part of a larger strategy to curtail Muslim immigration. We are sharply divided, of course, about whether this is a hope or a fear.

Which is why a lot of people feel that, by opposing this current travel ban, we are signaling our opposition to a flat-out religious test for entry into the United States. We know that this is what the president has said that he wants. We know that he asked his advisers how to get it without running afoul of the law. And we know that the administration has presented no evidence of any process problems that need fixing. It is not an enormous leap to think that this executive order is designed to lead to the thing that the man who issued it says he wants and has asked people to help him figure out how to get.

Of course, slippery slope thinking is still a fallacy, unless one can demonstrate a logically compelling path from point a to point b. So maybe we are all just freaking out for no reason. Nothing would make me happier.

But let's play a thought-experiment game.

Imagine that, eight years ago, President Obama had campaigned for a year on a "gun ban." Imagine that he had said repeatedly that he did not believe that guns should be allowed in the United States, while crowds of liberal gun-haters cheered. Imagine that it had come out that he had asked close advisers during the transition how to do a gun ban legally and they responded that he should start with temporary bans on selected models and manufacturers.

Now pretend that he ordered his staff to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by gun owners. Think how gun owners would have responded to an executive order requiring a 90 day moratorium on imports from seven gun manufacturers who accounted for only a small fraction of all guns imported to the United States.

And finally, stop pretending that you don't know why people are freaking out over a temporary travel ban on Muslims from a handful of countries that has some surface administrative similarities to something that the Obama administration did in 2011.

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