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International Opinion

Trump’s Travel Ban: Global Competence or Incompetence?

February 09, 2017 8 min read
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Tony Jackson, Vice President for Education, and Director, Center for Global Education, at Asia Society, shares his thoughts on whether the travel ban meets the standards of global competence.

by guest blogger Tony Jackson

President Trump’s recent Executive Order (EO) suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days, indefinitely stops admission of Syrian refugees, and for 90 days bans individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The order has been hotly debated on political, legal, and moral terms. But for the moment, let’s suspend reality—ever more popular these days—and consider the EO from a hypothetical perspective.

In a tweet justifying his actions to prevent terrorists from entering our country, President Trump said, “Study the world!” Just yesterday at gathering of law enforcement chiefs in Washington DC, Trump read aloud the Immigration and Nationality Act which defines the president’s power to stop legal entry into the US, noting, “A bad high school student would understand that.” But how good a student of the world is Donald Trump? How does the EO and the President’s defense of it stack up against standards of global competence?

The Center for Global Education at Asia Society defines global competence as, “the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.” We have further defined four core capacities associated with global competence: investigating the world, recognizing perspectives, communicating ideas, and taking action. For each of these capacities, we have also established a set of standards (performance outcomes) teachers can use to judge student work. Let’s use this criteria to assess whether the EO represents globally competent work.

Investigate the world
Investigating the world focuses on whether the work explains the global significance of an issue, identifies and weighs the most important factual evidence addressing the question, and develops a clear position based on the evidence. President Trump’s EO clearly identifies a major global issue. So called “radical Islamic terrorism” poses a real threat to the US and the world, evident, as cited in the EO, in the horrors of 9/11, which caused the death of 3,000 people.

But in the EO, President Trump views the problem from an exclusively American perspective. As Alex Nowrasteh at the conservative Cato Institute puts it, “Trump is concerned with ‘making American safe again,’ not with making other countries safe or with a global war on terrorism. A terrorist attack in another country doesn’t kill Americans inside the United States and these threats are not what concern American voters...You can call this an America First weighting of terrorism offenses.”

The specific threat identified in the EO is potential terrorists entering the country from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Here the EO gives no factual basis for singling out these countries, rather, a broad admonition that “numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals entering the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered the United States refugee resettlement program.”

Data on terrorism present a different picture. According to Nowrasteh’s analysis, no immigrants or refugees from countries included in the President’s travel ban have killed anyone in terrorist attacks on American soil in the last 40 years. Moreover, the chances of an American dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner in the US stands at about one in 3.6 million. Nowrasteh concludes Trump’s action to be “a response to a phantom menace.”

The EO fails against the standards of investigating the world. The work does not find and weigh credible evidence (from US or global sources) to draw a defensible conclusion in response to a global question.

Recognize Perspectives and Communicate Ideas
Student work that recognizes perspectives and communicates ideas shows a capacity to understand and weigh the credibility of perspectives on global issues other than one’s own. It also shows an ability to communicate in ways that engage and persuade diverse audiences. Here, too, the EO falls far short of proficiency.

Notwithstanding the factual inaccuracy of claims that the United States is being besieged by terrorists from the seven predominantly Muslim countries singled out by President Trump, the EO provides no evidence of understanding why individuals and families from these countries, in fact, are coming to the US in the first place.

There is no documentation of the numbers of these people coming to the US to work, to study, or to flee years of war and privation, as in the case of Syria. There is no recognition that, for the most part, these people come to the US for the very same reasons immigrants have come in decades and centuries past—to seek the American dream of freedom, self-determination, and success through education and hard work.

Instead, what is portrayed is a picture of existing immigration policies that favor Muslims over Christians, which suggests duplicitous welcome for would-be terrorists while excluding those who would be more likely to “successfully assimilate ... and to love us.” Trump claimed to an interviewer from the Christian Broadcasting Network that Christians in Syria were “horribly treated” and under previous administrations, “if you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.” But in fact, the Pew Research Center’s analysis of State Department data show that the number of Christian refugees entering the US in fiscal 2016 (37,521) was only slightly lower than the number of Muslim refugees (38,901).

The EO and Trump’s explanations communicate no sense of understanding that Muslims and Christians may come to the US for similar reasons of economic opportunity and freedom from violence and persecution. It is a myopic view focused only on the perceived threat to the US from immigrants and refugees that stands in stark contrast to the tweeted commentary of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

Take Action
Globally competent students take action based on their multi-dimensional investigation of global issues in a way that evaluates previous approaches, considers the consequences, and advances the common good. The EO does reference the Obama administration’s policy to more heavily scrutinize individuals who have visited the seven predominantly Muslim countries as a national security precaution. But never before has US policy prohibited people of entire countries from entering the US. There would appear to be a strong case that such action is illegal. Legal scholars cite the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which states that no person can be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The Act was adopted to eliminate the prior practice of immigration quotas from specific countries, which then-President Lyndon Johnson called the “harsh injustice” of national-origins quota systems.

What will be the consequences of the EO, especially if the temporary restrictions become permanent and possibly expanded? There is certainly the possibility that some terrorists will be prevented from coming into the US. However, it will be extraordinarily difficult for this to be reliably measured given that so few terrorists have come as immigrants and refugees to date. Statistically, acts of terrorism are far more likely to be perpetrated by radicalized US citizens or permanent residents than individuals coming to the US with violent intent.

What has occurred is a further polarization of perspectives and more inflammatory rhetoric, hardly a dialogue for the common good. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, condemned the order, saying “It will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters,” while anti-Islam political leader Geert Wilders tweeted: “Well done... I would do the same. Hope you’ll add more Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia soon.”

US officials, such as Republican Senator Ben Sasse worry that “if we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion.”

The divide is playing out tragically closer to home, in our nation’s schools. A global education teacher in a rural California community wrote anonymously:

We have a small, but vocal group of students and staff members who are newly empowered by the politicization and normalization of right-wing extremism, and another group of our students, including immigrants and LGBTQ students and their allies, who are scared and outraged...I can’t talk about expository writing and citing credible sources without students challenging the legitimacy of formerly mainstream media sources. The New York Times is now left-wing extremist propaganda in some of their eyes...I wonder if there will be blowback for me in terms of my career, because you better believe that my efforts “globalizing” my school are under close scrutiny.

President Trump’s Executive Order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” is a work of gross global incompetence. It fails to meet standards of global knowledge and understanding that would be expected of high school seniors, much less the world’s most powerful leader.

President Trump’s actions since this executive order do not bring confidence to his level of global competence, either, from foreign policy gaffes like hanging up on the prime minister of Australia, to using the pejorative term “bad hombres” and threatening to send troops to Mexico in a phone call with the Mexican president. In the months to come, President Trump will inevitably become more deeply enmeshed in the real-world curriculum of complex international issues and evidence-based feedback from authentic global sources. One can only hope that his capacity to understand and act on issues of global significance will improve.

Connect with Tony and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image on the left courtesy of UNESCO. Image on the right courtesy of the White House. Both sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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