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3 reasons Republican reassurances about Trump's refugee order ring hollow

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The emerging defense from many Republicans about President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugee admissions and entry of noncitizens into the US is that it’s not a “Muslim ban,” and it’s wrong to describe it that way.

One anonymous GOP aide told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “He ran on a Muslim ban. This is objectively nothing close to that. It ended up being but a faint shadow of what he first proposed.”

The argument is, essentially, that Trump has scaled back his original proposal to something more reasonable, and that’s why people like Speaker Paul Ryan, who condemned Trump’s plan during the campaign, are supporting him now.

It's true that Trump’s proposal, while massively consequential for a great many people’s lives, is indeed not the “Muslim ban” he originally proposed, which he called a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s order singles out seven majority-Muslim countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. But the vast majority of Muslims around the world — 90 percent or so — are not from those seven countries. So their travel to the US would not be affected by this policy change (on paper at least).

But don’t be fooled. At least as agencies are currently interpreting it, this move could still uproot the lives of hundreds of thousands of current US green card holders. Trump’s own comments make the anti-Muslim motivations clear. And it could well be a starting point toward something even more sweeping, rather than something temporary.

This is a massively consequential move that could affect hundreds of thousands of people

The administration spun Trump’s executive order as relating to vetting of refugees seeking to be newly admitted in the US.

But it’s gradually become clear that the implications of the language are far broader.

As ProPublica’s Marcelo Rochabrun flagged Friday night, the order bans entry into the US from all “aliens” — meaning all noncitizens — from seven specified countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen).

But around 500,000 noncitizens from the seven specified countries already have green cards letting them be lawful permanent residents of the US. Many of them have lived here and worked here for years.

According to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, Trump’s entry ban applies to them too. That means that if any of these current US residents travel outside the country, they may not be allowed back in.

If Trump’s entry ban applies to green card holders too, that means that if any of them should travel outside the US, they would not be allowed back in. Exceptions would only be made on a case-by-case basis, according to Reuters.

Then there are dual citizens — people who are, say, originally from Iraq but traveling with a Canadian or British passport. The Wall Street Journal reports that these people will also be blocked from entering the US due to Trump’s order, according to the State Department.

People, advocacy groups, and businesses are scrambling to deal with these consequences. Already, Google has called on its staffers who could be affected by this order to travel back to the US, due to concerns they might not be admitted despite having green cards, according to Fox News. So this is not in any way a minor action — it will have very serious consequences for a great many people.

Of course there’s a religious motivation

Can’t imagine why anyone would think Trump wants to ban Muslims...
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign website

Furthermore, Republican protestations that there’s no religious motivation here ring utterly hollow.

Religion was at the heart of this idea when Trump first proposed it. This proposal is an outgrowth of Trump’s campaign call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” as he put in in December 2015.

And yes, this restriction on entry into the US of people from seven majority-Muslim countries is a long way away from that goal. But we should take him at his word during the campaign that, at least at one point, his ideal was a full shutdown of all Muslim entry. Because if political circumstances change, he might very well manage to move even further in that direction. (Administration officials are already making clear that more countries could be added to this list of seven.)

Indeed, despite the insistence of some administration defenders that religion has nothing to do with what’s going on here, Trump himself is openly promoting his new approach as one that will give Christian refugees preference over Muslims. Here’s what he told Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David Brody on Friday:

“They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So we are going to help them.”

Finally, even though the word “Muslim” does not appear in the order itself, the order comes in the context of Trump’s harsh criticism of Muslim immigration in particular. The border agents and other federal employees who will be charged with enforcing it are well aware of this. They may assume they know what their president truly wants, even if he’s not saying it explicitly, and act accordingly.

Is this really temporary?

Finally, except for the indefinite halt on Syrian refugee admissions, the major moves in this order are temporary — people from those seven countries are blocked for 90 days, and the refugee admissions program is being suspended for 120 days.

So some have attempted to argue that there’s little reason to worry about this order because it’s merely be a temporary measure.

And it is true that when Trump first proposed his “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” he framed that too as temporary, immediately adding, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

But President Trump has framed these measures as necessary to the nation’s security to protect it from terrorism. And he will surely not solve the unsolvable problem of terrorism in 90 days. He will also likely fear that if he rolls back these measure he’s claimed are so important, and a terror attack does ensue, he’ll be blamed for it.

Indeed, rather than being a temporary measure, this could well be a starting point. Because if President Trump is going this far in relatively peaceful times, how will he respond to a successful terror attack on US soil?

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