COMMENTARY – On Friday, January 27, 2017, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order “Protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” instituting restrictions on travel to the US and suspension of visas from seven Muslim-majority countries, namely, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The aim of the order (citing authority from the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act) is to protect Americans from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals who enter the United States as visitors, students, or through employment visas, as well as by refugees, particularly Syrian refugees.
The effects were immediate, resulting in confusion and despair worldwide and detention of passengers at US airports. Journalists, activists and lawyers worked diligently to file a number of lawsuits. Federal court orders were issued staying the ban.
The executive order drew responses from across the world, pointing out that the ban would not have stopped any of the recent attacks that have happened in the US. Citing that the perpetrators have either been American citizens, or from countries not on the list (Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia), Peter Bergen, a leading authority on Jihadist terrorism wrote:
“Of the twelve lethal terrorists in the United States since 9/11: three are African-Americans; three are from families that hailed originally from Pakistan; two came from Russia as children; One was US-born and descended from family that emigrated from the Palestinian Territories; one emigrated from Egypt and carried out an attack a decade after arriving; one each had families that originally came from Kuwait and Afghanistan. None of these countries are on the travel ban list.
”While there is scant national security justification for Trump’s executive order, the order has taken its own toll on American national security. It has played into ISIS’ narrative of a West at war with Islam.
“It has undermined the trust of locals supporting American counterterrorism missions abroad by denying entry to US military translators who have been promised visas.
“The ban also risks upsetting relations with Iraq at a time when the United States is relying upon the Iraqi government to help defeat ISIS.
“And while it remains in effect, it wreaks havoc on those now stuck in detention, sometimes split from their families.”
Former President Barack Obama has essentially condemned the executive order stating that he “fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the executive order, citing the Geneva Convention regarding refugees: “The Geneva refugee convention requires the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds. All signatory states are obligated to do. The German government explained this policy in their call yesterday.”
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated in a series of tweets: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith.” The first, posted Saturday afternoon, said, “Diversity is our strength.”
The Trudeau administration has welcomed 40,000 Syrian refuges and the US has accepted 15,000. President Trump’s executive order has actually put a stop to the Syrian refugee resettlement process indefinitely.
Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state said: “This is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America’s core values. We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement.”
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the ban would be “recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters”.
Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst, said of the refugee ban, “The optic of this is really awful.” He continued: “What they’ve done goes too far. All it does is help [Islamic State] recruiting.”
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday, January 30: “With respect to H-1Bs and other visas, it’s part of a larger immigration reform effort that the president will continue to talk about through executive order and through working with Congress.”
“You’ll see both through executive action and through comprehensive legislative measures a way to address immigration as a whole and the visa program,” Spicer said.
Incidentally, senators, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley and Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin, said they planned to re-introduce a bill from 2007 that would demand employers trying to hire workers on H-1B visas to make a “good faith effort” to hire Americans first.
Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the highest-profile Republicans in Congress, said he would reintroduce a bill to restrict H-1Bs. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat said, she was introducing a new bill designed to make it harder for firms to use less expensive workers on H-1B visas.
Indeed, life may get difficult, should President Trump use an executive order to tighten H-1B visa. There is also, the US’s Optional Practical Training, or OPT program, that gives foreign graduates in fields like science, technology, engineering or math the access and opportunity to work in the US for up to 36 months depending on their degree subject.
During his campaign, President Donald Trump had vowed to crack down on the abuse of H-1B program during the election campaign, supported by nominee attorney general, Jeff Sessions who believes H-1B visa take jobs away from locals. In his inaugural speech he said the country would “follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American”.
It is clear that there is growing concern of industry executives, companies, short-term employees and consultants who rely on HI-B visas, have been finding it difficult to return to and or work in the US, due to “administrative processing” – a tool for indentifying and resolving questions related to visa application under section 221(G) of the US Immigration and National Act.
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke’s concern is not without merit. “I am concerned that he could expand that if we don’t organise and push back now. We know that in the Caribbean region there is a very healthy Muslim population from Guyana, to Trinidad, to Jamaica across the board and so we have to make sure we come together.”
A leading authority on citizenship by investment programs expressed the view that he expects applications for Malta, which is the only country offering citizenship-by-investment and visa free access to the US, would be affected negatively, especially for clients from the MENA region.
“In addition, we expect demand for the US EB-5 investor program to decrease by 50% in 2017. These applicants will be diverted to the Canadian program and European ones as much more welcoming destinations.
“Future elections in France and Germany, if they veer to the extreme right, could affect some of these EU programs and limit options for global investors. Clients should consider rushing to onboard programs as soon as possible, as future offerings are uncertain in these political times.”
On Tuesday, January 31, American diplomats defied the White House, sending a memo to the State Department’s leadership arguing that the executive order runs counter to American values and will fuel anti-American sentiment around the world.
“A policy which closes our doors to over 200 million legitimate travellers in the hopes of preventing a small number of travellers who intend to harm Americans from using the visa system to enter the United States will not achieve its aim of making our country safer.”
In today’s globally interconnected world, there is the military equivalence that Latin America and the Caribbean is considered “unoccupied high ground” for the United States. President Trump has promised to increase the budget for the military in what he called “a great rebuilding of the armed services of the United States”.
Saint Lucia has its particular problem with US deportation policy and the Leahy Law, notwithstanding Prime Minister Allen Chastanet’s election promise of visa free entry to the United States, and lobbying efforts that are inconsequential, as a result of incapacity, and lack of gravitas and influence at that level.
However, in consideration of the executive order on immigration and refugees that was produced quickly and without forewarning, are Caribbean governments prepared for the probable impact?
Should there be cause for concern to Muslim from the seven banned countries living in the Caribbean and those whom have returned from the Islamic State mainly in Syria and others seeking to obtain Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationality?
On the one hand, should Caribbean governments have cause to implement supplementary “due diligence” in relation to the citizenship by investment programs in the Caribbean and, in particular, the race to the bottom between Dominica and Saint Lucia offering citizenship in only three months for US$100,000?
At that price point, the region really should be concerned about who is issued a CARICOM passport and the shenanigans that accompany diplomatic passports.
In that effort, the Caribbean must do more to leverage the region and become strategic to navigate external policy and regulations.
Armand Arton, president of Arton Capital, a global financial advisory firm specializing in investor programs for residence and citizenship, is of the view that, while increased migration and security threats are changing government policies around the world, restricting human flows is similar to restricting ideas and human progress: impossible in the long run.
“Like the thousands of dual citizens affected by the latest US travel ban, this situation has created a unique opportunity to show the world the importance of global citizenship.
“What are the consequences of the ban? Demand for citizenship-by-investment in the Caribbean will increase, as these passports never facilitated US visa free access and will not be affected negatively. The only exception is Grenada, as its passport qualifies for EB-2.”
While President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees is inconsistent with and represents a vast departure in US policy, he has the authority to reformat the American landscape, good or bad.
However, the problematic and troublesome capability lies in the perception that is either naive or accompanied by irrational exuberance.
First, that government should be run like a corporation. In fact, the two are separate and distinct.
Second, catchy one-liners that sound good on the campaign trail usually don’t hold water in the institution of governance.
The result in both cases raises question and concern to the strategy and execution of the executive order on immigration and refugees.
Whatever the mythology surrounding President Trump, the opportunity exists for CARICOM and OECS heads of government to sharpen their toolbox and provide a renewed approach that is intellectual and honest; and transcends the prejudices of politics.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and NewsNow Global analysis. He can be reached at [email protected]