The way to debate Trump’s orders on migrants

Immigrant bans and new walls need not be contentious if each side recognizes they both seek to solve the root cause of mass migration.

A displaced Iraqi woman who fled from fighting Islamic State militants in Mosul, carries her baby at Khazer camp, Iraq Jan. 29.

Public reaction has been swift and strong to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration. One order calls for building more barriers along the border with Mexico. The other aims to set a short-term ban on immigration from seven countries deemed to be sources of “radical Islamic terrorists.”

Both orders still face hurdles before they can be implemented. Paying for a “wall” with Mexico remains uncertain. And federal courts have temporarily blocked the immigrant ban in order to judge it on moral and legal grounds; Mr. Trump insists the ban does not target Muslims.

In both cases, a delay will help buy time for the Trump administration and its opponents to see if they can find common ground. Doing so might avoid a long and polarizing standoff.

One possible path of reconciliation is for each side to recognize the other already cares about the reasons for the flow of migrants toward the United States, especially refugees seeking asylum. Both seek to help end the adverse conditions that drive people to flee their countries while continuing to aid their humane resettlement.

Both sides, for example, worry that much of Central America as well as parts of Mexico are home to high rates of corruption and gang violence. And of the countries targeted by Trump with an immigration ban – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – almost all are considered to be fragile states with failing governance or high levels of warfare, or both.

Last year, Trump warned against cutting off aid to countries, especially those with nuclear weapons, because “we don’t want to see total instability.” And his choice to be US secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said in his confirmation hearings that oppression in a country and a deterioration of human rights help create instability. He promised that “these most precious of human values that we advocate” will never be absent in US policy.

“Our leadership demands action specifically focused on improving the conditions of people the world over,” said Mr. Tillerson. “Our moral light must not go out if we are to remain an agent of freedom for mankind.”

Another possible member of the Trump administration, former national security advisor Stephen Hadley, also cites a practical reason to help fragile states. “Americans need to understand that these are problems that, even if the locus of them seems to be far away, they end up on America's doorstep.” The US, for example, has long recognized one way to reduce Mexican migration. It has provided an average of $320 million of aid a year to Mexico.

By 2030, more than 60 percent of the world’s poor will be living in countries with fragile conditions, such as political violence or famine, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The waves of such desperate people trying to reach the US cannot be stopped simply by walls and immigration bans. Rather than fight over such measures, it would be more far-sighted and productive to work on solving the problems at their root.

But first that takes a joint recognition that the victims of violence and hunger need not live in such conditions. They can live in safety, under honest and accountable governance.

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