Extreme Vetting? It's Already Here

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

Lots of people have been commenting on the self-sabotaging aspect of Donald Trump's early morning Twitter-storm, which undermines a central argument in his Supreme Court challenge his lawyers filed to defend his executive orders on immigration.

But it's not just that Trump on June 5 announced we need "a TRAVEL BAN!" after Justice Department lawyers have been denying that his orders are actually bans at all. Trump also went on to tweet: "In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!"

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Rene Bermudez wipes away tears as he holds his 4-year-old daughter Danyca during a protest on behalf of his wife Liliana Cruz Mendez, a Virginia immigrant and mother of two with no criminal record that was detained during a regularly scheduled check-in last week by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in front of ICE Headquarters in Washington, DC, May 23, 2017. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

Well, then, what do you need those immigration orders for? Whether he calls it a travel ban or a Muslim ban, as it appears to many of us, one point former national security officials have been making all along is that the United States already has, and is fully capable of, carefully vetting travelers and immigrants to this country, in accordance with current national security laws and needs.

Indeed, as I've pointed out here before, refugees from anywhere in the world already undergo a lengthy, multi-step process to be allowed to resettle in the United States, which involves screening by national and international intelligence agencies, checking of fingerprint and other biometric data against terrorist and criminal databases, and multiple personal interviews.

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As a bipartisan group of twenty national security leaders, including Henry Kissinger, retired Gen. David Petraeus, Michael Chertoff, Madeleine Albright and Leon Panetta, told members of Congress in this letter : "the process that refugees undergo in order to be deemed eligible for resettlement in the United States is robust and thorough."

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Syrian refugees didn't need to be banned indefinitely, as Trump's first order attempted to do; the 120-day ban on all refugees which remained in the revised order wasn't necessary either.

As Trump himself has now acknowledged, none of the provisions in his executive orders were necessary to protect U.S. national security, because he already has all the power he needs to make sure immigrants to the United States are carefully screened for security threats.

This fact underscores what the orders' critics, including the federal courts, have been concluding, after a searching review of the record: the only purpose to Trump's orders is to discriminate against Muslims. Presumably, the president believes this will play to his base of political support. And that may be more important to him than winning his case in court – as his highly publicized Twitter-outburst this morning suggests.

Daphne Eviatar is Senior Counsel in Human Rights First's Law and Security Program.

Extreme Vetting? It's Already Here | Opinion