The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump’s Idea Is Frivolous — And Its Defenses Aren’t Holding Up Either

In response to About Those Minneapolis Police Officers the Stimulus Allegedly Saved . . .

Andy makes some fine and illuminating points, and I agree with him on his larger policy objective: America should try to screen for ideological commitments to Islamic radicalism among would-be immigrants.

But I also think there’s a bit of unintentional sleight-of-hand in Andy’s post. He begins by saying that he’s against Trump’s Muslim ban. He then says he’s for something else — screening immigrants for radical Islamic ideology, etc.

He then complains that, “I am hearing one of the same objections lodged against Trump’s sweeping proposal, namely: It is impractical because immigrants will lie about their religious affiliation.”

And then he writes this:

This contention borders on the frivolous. I was sorry to see Charles Krauthammer rely on it last night – even if it was fodder for a few much needed laughs as Dr. K evoked the “George Washington cherry-tree standard of not telling a lie to an infidel immigration officer,” and Chris Stirewalt quipped that maybe, as an assurance that they were not Muslims, would-be immigrants could be forced to eat a ham sandwich. Funny … but also suggestive of basic misconceptions about immigration law.

While many commentators acknowledge that aliens have no right to enter the United States, they miss the legal significance of this fact: In federal admission proceedings, the burden of proof is on the immigrant. It is the alien who must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the examining official, that he or she is not subject to exclusion under any provision of the immigration law. It is not up to the government to prove that the alien should not be admitted – or, as relevant here, to prove that the alien is lying.

I can see how the contention borders on the frivolous in the case of Andy’s preferred approach but I am at a loss as to how the objection is frivolous when aimed at Trump’s proposal — which is what Charles Krauthammer was responding to. Andy makes it sound like Charles was criticizing a serious policy — along the lines Andy suggests — when he was criticizing an utterly bogus PR stunt masquerading as a serious policy, which is what Trump offered.

Trump said on Morning Joe yesterday that customs officials would simply ask, “Are you a Muslim?” to immigrants.

(And not just immigrants, but tourists, business travelers, etc. Indeed, originally, Trump left it an open question whether American Muslims returning from abroad would be barred as well. He gave that up — under media scrutiny, not because Trump actually thought any of this through before throwing this “idea” out there in the first place).

Even if the burden of proof is on the traveler, it seems to me that “Are you a Muslim?” is a burden of proof Islamists actually could beat by lying. And while terrorists would get around it, millions of non-terrorist Muslims would get really pissed off by the question, and rightly so. And again, we’re not just talking about people who want to live here, but people who might just want to see the Grand Canyon or take in a show.

Customs official: What religion are you?

Traveler: I’m a Christian

Customs official: Prove it!

The logistical problems of turning the airport customs process into a perpetual Council of Nicea, strikes me as the very heart of frivolity — albeit a dangerous frivolity.

I know Andy is a Cruz man so he is not really defending Trump here. But his response is a bit analogous to many Trump defenses out there: Trump says something indefensible, half-baked, or otherwise ridiculous. He then walks it back slightly or — as he did with taking-in Syrian refugees — entirely. His defenders take the revised version of what he said at face value, add in a serious point or two that Trump has not actually made, and then make it sound like his critics are the unreasonable ones.

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