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Could Trump's 'extreme vetting' of prospective immigrants really work?

In a speech in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday, Donald Trump proposed an ideological test for anyone entering the US.

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    Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016.
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Republican nominee Donald Trump shared the latest iteration of his immigration policy during a speech on foreign policy in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday.

His plan included partnerships with other countries, including Muslim ones, in the fight against the so-called Islamic State militant group, but his newest idea is a test for new immigrants, The Washington Post reported.

Monday's plan suspends immigration from "some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism" until a new test can be made and administered. This test draws upon a Cold War-era ideological test to ensure that incoming immigrants believe in American principles rather than extreme ideologies established by some Muslim militants.

“In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test," he said. "The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.... I call it extreme, extreme vetting.”

Such a test, which would evaluate a potential immigrant's belief in "American values" and willingness to "embrace a tolerant American society," is legal under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, Joseph Tanfani reported for the Los Angeles Times. This act was passed in the context of the Cold War, as Mr. Trump noted, and it gives the president extensive power to investigate and bar potential immigrants who might threaten US security.

As The Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier noted, “extreme vetting” is a method that might help Trump get around the religious test embodied in his past suggestion of a temporary ban on the entry of non-citizen Muslims into the US – a means of religious discrimination that’s been heavily criticized.

Possible entrants to the US would have to answer questions about whether they believed in a “tolerant” way of life and agreed with US values about the treatment of women, the rule of law, and the primacy of the US Constitution.

Immigration officials could certainly ask questions relevant to the dramatic differences between American society and the so-called Islamic State militant group. Some immigration officials wonder how this test would catch potential radicals more effectively than the current vetting process, which requires US government officials to share intelligence data with immigration services, and US security agents are posted in high-risk nations to help with vetting.

Although legal, such a test would be difficult to administer without slowing down an already lengthy immigration process, depending on how many immigrants were subject to it, the Los Angeles Times reported. Visas were granted to 10.8 million visitors and 531,000 immigrants last year. Immigration is currently high, up from 7.5 million in 2011, but 3 million immigrants were denied entry – 1,000 based on terrorism concerns.  

Although Trump’s remarks were stronger in tone than than those currently heard from most American political leaders, he did not reveal many specific details of his plan to suggest how it would differ from the current administration’s.

Trump outlined his plans in a prepared speech, and although he drew upon comments he has made throughout the campaign, he largely avoided the more controversial, off-the-cuff suggestions, noted the Washington Post. The foreign policy revision shows a sign of the long-awaited moderation to certain positions, as Gretel Kauffman wrote for The Christian Science Monitor:

After his proposal for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" was denounced by both Republicans and Democrats as a violation of religious freedom, Trump has since made alterations.

In June, following the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Republican candidate appeared to soften the ban, calling only for the barring of Muslims from "the terror countries." The new standard would "suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against these US, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats."

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