Everybody must sympathize with Donald Trump's desire to keep potential terrorists out of the United States. But the way he suggests it is flawed and would never pass muster in the U.S. Supreme Court.
We cannot have a religious test for would-be immigrants. It is repugnant both to our Constitution and to our history. And how are we to gauge the degree of religious commitment by an applicant who claims not to be affiliated with Islam? How can we peer into his or her heart?
It would be wrong to ban all Muslims when the vast majority abhor terrorism and, indeed, are sometimes the very people upon whom our internal security people rely to get information to avert attacks. As Warren Delano, FDR's grandfather, said: "Not all Democrats are horse thieves. But, in my experience, all horse thieves are Democrats." Not all or even a significant percentage of Muslims are terrorists or potential terrorists. But the vast majority of terror attacks are committed by Muslims.
There is a clean way to keep would-be terrorists from coming into the U.S. sort out immigrants based on country of origin, not religion.
We need to stop all immigration, student visas and other visas for nations that sponsor terrorism or that have a significant part of their territory in the control of terrorist groups. Sorting out immigration by geography, not by religion, would pass constitutional muster. After all, our entire quota system for legal immigration is based on country of origin.
The State Department maintains a list of countries that it deems as sponsors of terrorism. It currently includes Iran, Syria and Sudan. Until recently, it included Cuba, but the sanction was lifted as part of the normalization of relations. Before that, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and North Korea were on the list, but they too were purged as part of various diplomatic deals.
We need the State Department to recreate a comprehensive list of nations with significant terrorist presence. It should base the list on objective data such as the country of origin of those who have perpetrated various recent terror attacks in the U.S., at home or in other nations.
Even if a country is committed to opposing terror like Saudi Arabia, for example the presence of terrorists within its borders should be enough to put it on the list of nations from which immigrants would be excluded. The list should exclude applicants from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Bahrain, Pakistan and possibly also Bangladesh and Nigeria.
We need to be particularly focused on student visas. Students from these countries constitute a large proportion of the young men and women we let into our country from these terror-harboring states. They also provide our colleges and universities with a goodly proportion of their tuition revenue. But our ability to vet applicants from these countries is limited, and the proportion of attacks committed by those from these nations (including the 9/11 terrorists from Saudi Arabia) serves as argument for this restriction.
And, obviously, the use of a fiancee visa by one of the San Bernardino terrorists to enter the U.S. plainly means that we must include such visas in the ban.
Trump is tapping into a genuine concern among Americans, and it deserves to be addressed, using the objective standard of geography and terror incidence rather than religion or ethnicity.
Nobody has a right to come to the United States. Immigration and the admission of refugees is a privilege conferred by the United States voluntarily. It must not become a screen behind which those who mean us harm can hide in gaining entrance to our country.