News: CJ Exclusives

Critic of Trump immigration order says market should govern refugee flow

David Bier says refugees should face same sponsorship requirements as other immigrants.

Demonstrators protesting the Trump administration's immigration and refugees policies in Durham Jan. 27. (CJ photo by Dan Way)
Demonstrators protesting the Trump administration's immigration and refugees policies in Durham Jan. 27. (CJ photo by Dan Way)

A leading critic of President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order limiting refugee resettlements into the United States says not only is the annual ceiling of 50,000 refugees too low, but also that the government should not set it.

If the inflow of refugees were regulated by family members, individuals, organizations, and churches sponsoring refugees — the way most of the nation’s immigration system works — the number would be capped naturally by marketplace demand, says David Bier, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute. To the extent a refugee crisis exists, sponsors would come forward to provide support for those whose lives are endangered by religious or ethnic persecution or live in war-torn regions, he said.

“It’s [now] a totally arbitrary system,” said Bier, former senior policy advisor for Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, during an interview with Carolina Journal. “We should revamp the refugee program, and allow private individuals to sponsor refugees, and [assume] the fiscal costs, the financial costs of bringing them over here on behalf of the government.”

Although Trump has set the cap at a level that’s been fairly stable since the George W. Bush administration, “I would argue that 50,000 is too low because the scale of the crisis today hasn’t been as large as this since World War II,” Bier said. “As the crisis gets worse the responsibility expands.”

While Bier says Trump’s order is “definitely legal” in terms of refugees, temporary visitors, students, or anybody on a temporary visa, the parts dealing with legal permanent residents (aka green-card holders) violate federal law. He penned a column for The New York Times over the weekend spelling out his concerns.

Green-card holders are protected from discrimination based on national origin when they seek a visa for permanent residency, Bier told CJ. In this case, discrimination is used in a legal sense, rather than referring to some mean-spirited attitude.

“That’s in the law. It’s what the 1965 Immigration Act says,” Bier said. “You cannot discriminate on national origin, place of birth, or place of residence when issuing an immigrant visa, and that is exactly what the Trump administration is doing.”

In essence, Trump is saying, “‘I have the authority, I have the power to ignore the laws from Congress,’ and that’s exactly what President Obama said during his term, and I think it’s highly hypocritical for [Trump] to turn around and do exactly what he criticized President Obama for,” Bier said.

Andrew McCarthy, a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and former Justice Department official who prosecuted terrorists, disagrees with Bier that Trump lacks authority.

He contends the president has clear constitutional authority over international relations that supersedes Congress, except in those areas where the Constitution enumerates powers to Congress.

McCarthy further argues that the 1965 Immigration Act was enacted to end racial and ethnic discrimination in the immigration process. Trump’s executive order is not based on those factors, but for the purpose of protecting national security from a terrorist threat.

Trump’s executive order halted all refugee resettlements for 120 days to allow development of his “extreme vetting” policy. It placed a 90-day freeze on people entering the United States from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, known hotspots for Islamist terrorism.

Bier said such a sweeping ban might survive a court challenge if there were a temporary and specific situation warranting it. However, he said, “it’s very clear reading the order that it’s not only 90 days of ban, it’s at least 90 days, and then [Trump is] asserting the authority to make it permanent.”

While Congress and President Obama originally drafted the seven nations specified in Trump’s executive order, Bier said, “It doesn’t mean he can use that list in ways that Congress did not authorize for him to use that list.” The president only can require interviews of anyone who’s coming to the United States from those countries. He has no authority to ban them.

While Trump supporters point out that Obama and former President Jimmy Carter also banned refugees from specific countries, Bier said the comparisons aren’t valid. Obama’s six-month ban on Iraqi refugees was “based in response to a specific security threat in that country as opposed to sweeping in seven different countries that are incredibly different.”

Carter also confined his 1980 order to one country, Iran, “and he only banned the students, the temporary visitors to the United States. He didn’t ban the immigrants who are coming to the United States to live permanently,” Bier said.

Because Iranians had taken over the U.S. embassy in Iran, where the visa printing machine was located, Carter said there was uncertainty whether temporary travel visas were valid.

Trump similarly contends that it is difficult to determine if visas from war-torn nations are forged, or if people in the refugee system are who they say they are. Bier dismisses that comparison.

“It’s just absurd to say that we don’t know who anyone is in seven different countries. That’s a joke,” Bier said. Many people have been traveling to the United States for years on temporary visas, as students, or to visit families.

He sees no reason to profile based on nationality. The system already has the proper checks by requiring people to present evidence they are who they say they are, came from where they said, and have the necessary connections in the United States to earn a visa. Anyone who cannot provide all that information does not receive a visa.

Bier also laments the widespread claim by media outlets and activists that Trump’s order imposes a religious test on immigrants.

“The Muslim ban issue is absurd. It’s just something that should not be pushed,” Bier said.

He noted that more Iranian Christians than Iranian Muslims live in the United States.

“[Christians] are going to be affected just as much as any Muslim in the United States,” Bier said. “Their ability to be able to sponsor a family member through the immigration system is going to be impacted just as much as any person of any other faith.”