Saturday, January 28, 2017

Immigration Ban A Bad Idea

President Trump’s executive order to ban individuals from certain predominantly Muslim countries is not in the best interest of the US.  Not only do we not have a large problem in the US with Islamic terrorism, the ban would have done little to save the lives of many of those who have been killed here by extremists.  It is also likely that the ban  and the surrounding rhetoric will make us less safe.    

My point here is not to discuss the morality of turning away refugees or the effect on religious liberty.   Nor am I going to discuss the possible economic costs of such a ban.  That is not to say that I don’t think such implications exist, but I want to focus on why this is objectively not necessary and could cause additional problems.

There are an estimated 3 million Muslims living in the US and over a million who visit yearly as tourists.  So it is fair to say that there are a substantial number of Muslims in the US.  More than enough to judge whether they pose a threat to our security.  If even a small percent of the Muslims here wish to do the US harm, it could be very costly.  We could have weekly or even daily terrorists attacks resulting in thousands of deaths a year.  Is that what is happening?  Fortunately, it is not.

There have been remarkably few terrorists attacks, deaths and injuries in the US since 9/11/01. Since 9/12/01, there have been 45 Islamic terrorist acts that killed 144 people and injured 393 others.  This averages out to about 3 incidents and 10 deaths a year.  The numbers that I used are from a website called  This website describes itself as “ non-partisan, fact-based site which examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom.”  If you visit this website, it will become apparent that they are not a pro-Muslim website and are unlikely to exclude incidents to make the numbers look better.  While some may argue that this unfairly attributes deaths to Muslim terrorism, I wanted to give those who see this as a big problem the benefit of the doubt.   
The numbers clearly show that the US has been remarkably free from Islamic terrorism. Yes, it is tragic that 144 people have lost their lives,but we should put that in context.  In 2016 alone,  there were 5 times as many murders in Chicago (762) as deaths caused by Islamic extremists in 15 years.  The old cliche about lightning strikes is even applicable, as on average 4 times as many people die in the US from lightning strikes than from Islamic terrorism.  

What about those 144 lives?  Wouldn’t they all be alive today if we locked down our immigration policies?  The answer is no.  One third (53) of those deaths came at the hands of the Orlando nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, who was born in the US.  No immigration ban would have stopped him.  Sixteen or seventeen of the deaths were attributed to the American born DC Beltway sniper.  Again, no immigration ban would have stopped him.  Thirteen more were the result of the Virginian born Ft. Hood shooter, and five from the New Jersey born Ft. Lauderdale airport shooter.  The ban would not have stopped any of them.

Not only does banning individuals solve a problem that doesn’t exist, it could very well create additional problems.  Creating an atmosphere where Muslim Americans feel marginalized and vilified could actually make it more difficult to identify those individuals who might want to do us harm.  

Muslim Americans will often be in a position to see a problem individual well before non-Muslims or authorities.  Members of an immigrant community are more likely to notice those with an extremist view in their community.  Behaviors and traits that outside members might not notice may be very apparent to an insider.  It is also more likely that an Islamic extremist will be less guarded around other Muslims than non-Muslims.  He might even confide or request help from members of the community, expecting that they might share his beliefs.  

If Muslims feel marginalized, as “less American”, they will be less likely to inform authorities and “say something” if they “see something”. This is not some crazy theory.  There are American communities today where many people do not cooperate with law enforcement because of distrust and a sense of marginalization.  

Another problem is that groups like ISIS will point to our ban on travel from these countries in their recruiting effort.  Part of their message is that the US and the West is waging a war on Islam, and this just feeds into that narrative.  Not only will this resonate in places where the US is already unpopular, but it could also have the effect of radicalizing people here, increasing the danger here.

Terrorist attacks make huge headlines. They have an impact far beyond their numbers.  The murder of someone in a convenient store robbery doesn’t strike the same fear in us as someone killed by a terrorist.  That is the point of the attack; to strike fear.  We need to remain vigilant, but we shouldn’t let that fear drive our policies.