In one of his first acts as president, Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that suspended immigration from seven nations in the Middle East and north Africa for a 90-day period. Whatever the merits of limiting immigration from these countries might be, the undue breadth of Mr. Trump’s order evinced a shocking indifference to the hundreds of thousands of permanent legal residents of the United States who, though hailing from the banned countries, have lived and worked among us, often while seeking citizenship, for years.
Issued with little warning, President Trump’s executive order barred all “immigrants and nonimmigrants” from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen from entering the United States. Only those holding diplomatic visas or otherwise privileged documentation were exempt from these entry restrictions; all other immigrants, including lawful permanent residents (LPRs) originally from those countries, were denied entry.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, lawful permanent residents—otherwise called “green card” holders—“are non-citizens who are lawfully authorized to live permanently within the United States.” Despite having most of the same privileges as full American citizens, permanent residents often apply for U.S. citizenship anyway, undertaking a naturalization process of a difficulty only matched by the challenge of securing a green card in the first place. Many LPRs enlist in the U.S. military; between 1999 and 2010, according to Time, 80,000 non-citizens served in the armed forces, comprising one in 25 of all recruits during that period.
In his rush to fulfill a campaign promise, Mr. Trump forgot to represent every American at the bargaining table—including those lawful permanent residents who knocked at the door of their own home, only to be told that they didn’t belong there.
Legal permanent residents have earned their place in the vibrant, multicolored fabric of American society. Indeed, in my experience, it seems that many contribute more to America than do her citizens, many of whom take for granted the gifts of life and freedom in the land of opportunity. Yet in crafting his executive order, Mr. Trump’s administration blithely overlooked these “citizens-in-waiting,” banning them from entering the country that they call home. These Americans—and they are Americans—were forced off planes, turned back at the border, and treated like aliens—simply because they were born in the wrong place.
As chaos erupted at major airports across the U.S. in response to his order, President Trump eventually corrected the record, clearing the way for legal permanent residents to return to their homes and jobs in America while preserving the other elements of the travel ban. But his original oversight of hundreds of thousands of hardworking American residents is difficult to explain as anything other than ignorance or indifference—both of which are inexcusable for a man vested with the inordinate responsibility of the presidency. In his rush to fulfill a campaign promise, Mr. Trump forgot to represent every American at the bargaining table—including those lawful permanent residents who knocked at the door of their own home, only to be told that they didn’t belong there. Inflicting needless collateral damage and leaving the lives and futures of thousands hanging in the balance hardly denotes the discernment and compassion for which Mr. Trump would like to be remembered when he seeks reelection in four short years.
Regardless of the merits or demerits of increased restrictions upon immigration, President Trump has an obligation to get these major policy changes right the first time. Even if inexperience, not indifference, is to blame for his failure to stand up for legal U.S. residents, we must hold him accountable. Mr. Trump rose to the presidency on his promise to overcome the feckless political establishment and to undo the dysfunction its members have left in their wake. Replicating the ineptitude of the “stupid” political class is no way to fulfill this promise. Thoughtful, decisive, and precise policies are, however, and these are what we must demand from our new president.
It took peaceful protests and petitions to bring the plight of thousands of legal permanent residents to the fore of the debate over the immigration ban, inducing Mr. Trump’s administration to fix its mistake. But entrusted with such formidable powers, President Trump has no excuse for such grievous and reckless errors. Let us hope that it will not take rallies in our streets for our president to remember all Americans when he next wields his pen.
Featured Photo: Protestors gather outside the White House to protest Donald Trump’s temporary immigration ban. (Credit: Geoff Livingston)