Politics & Policy

Making Sense of the Travel Ban, 132 Days Later

(Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
The countries listed have no infrastructure that would permit any vetting at all, so why would a 90-day pause be enough?

President Trump’s team has insisted that we need a so-called travel ban as a 90-day pause in order to give the administration time to review procedures and develop a new, improved “extreme vetting” system before allowing people from the banned countries to enter.

This, of course, is not how things have worked out. Two separate versions of the ban have been blocked by the courts, and it’s now been 132 days since President Trump’s initial order was intended to take effect — but the president is not giving up. Far from it: Saturday’s London attacks have prompted him to renew the need for it in a series of, um, passionate tweets. In those same tweets, however, President Trump also stated that “extreme vetting” was already under way — a statement that both Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Republican Senator Roy Blunt have affirmed.

It’s not hard to see why this might raise some eyebrows. As media outlets ranging from the Washington Post to the Daily Beast have noted, some could interpret this news as a sort of admission that the ban is no longer necessary. Why, after all, would the United States need a travel ban to bide time to implement “extreme vetting,” if “extreme vetting” were already under way?

Now, to be fair, Kelly also stated that even though “extreme vetting” is possible without President Trump’s executive order, the Hawaii court’s injunction prevents the administration from “actually looking into the information that we need from each country to conduct proper screening,” and even stops the administration from studying ways to improve the process to ensure that its methods are the the best way to keep us safe.

Now, that makes no sense to me. I don’t see any reason that these kinds of reviews should be blocked, and I do see plenty of reasons the administration would be upset about it. Here’s the thing, though: When President Trump complains about the blocking of his executive order, he continually refers specifically to the blocking of the ban as being the problem — even though the “ban” portion was never pitched as being the ultimate answer to immigration and travel concerns (aside, of course, from the “indefinite ban” on Syrian refugees in the first executive order, a portion that has now been scrapped) but as a pause to allow the Trump Team to find that answer.

To be honest, I’ve always questioned the “temporary” part of the “temporary travel ban,” and that’s not just because I question everything. No, it’s because one of the Trump team’s main arguments for a 90-day pause also seemed to suggest that a pause of only 90 days would never be enough: That the countries listed simply do not have the kind of infrastructure to offer the kind of information that would make vetting, let alone “extreme vetting,” possible. Think about it: If this were the case, then what good would 90 days do in changing that?

It’s an important thing to consider. Perhaps President Trump and his team really do believe that all of the problems that they themselves have brought up with our vetting system really could be solved in 90-days, and also that a 90-day ban really is completely necessary no matter how much time goes by. Or, perhaps, the ban was never really intended to be actually “temporary,” but “temporary” the way that the Patriot Act has been “temporary.” I don’t claim to know the answer, but when arguments don’t align, I definitely am going to have questions — and there’s a lot that doesn’t quite seem to make sense here.


Trump’s Travel Ban & the London Terror Attacks

Trump’s Travel Ban Executive Order, Clarified & Improved

The Fourth Circuit & Donald Trump’s Travel Ban

— Katherine Timpf is a National Review Online reporter.

Editor’s Note: Because of an editing error, this piece originally stated that it had been 131 days since President Trump announced his original executive order. It has been corrected.


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