As Donald Trump peddles hateful ‘shutdown,’ House deals with travel security

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, Dec. 9:

Donald Trump’s response to the terrorist threat, “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” is like a lot of his campaign rhetoric: a visceral, offensive, absurdly simplistic, headline-grabbing take on a real issue.

The idea of a ban on travel by Muslims to the U.S. goes an ugly step further. Blocking people from entering the country based on their religious beliefs is a repugnant rejection of American principles of a free and open society.

Not to mention unconstitutional. Maybe that’s why Trump started Tuesday on some clarifications. U.S. citizens who are abroad? OK, they can come back. Muslim heads of state? Yes, they can visit. International athletes? Come and play.

It’s still tempting to chalk it all up to spiteful, hateful nonsense. Except the guy keeps leading in those polls of Republican primary voters.

At least it was good to see Republicans and Democrats race each other to excoriate Trump. (Lindsey Graham: “Tell Donald Trump go to hell.”)

House Speaker Paul Ryan neatly summed it up: “This is not conservatism. What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for. And more importantly, it’s not what this country stands for.”

So there’s Trump’s dark fantasy. And then there’s reality.

Members of the U.S. House on Tuesday ignored the noise and voted overwhelmingly on legislation to tighten immigration rules. The vote was bipartisan; the measure is logical and constitutional.

The bill, which was taken up after last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, gained more urgency with the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. It addresses the U.S. visa waiver program. Under that program, citizens of 38 countries, mostly in Europe, can enter the U.S. for business or tourism without a visa. The bill would require a visa for people who have been in Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan since March 1, 2011.

Travelers to those countries, all of which have been linked to terrorist activity, would have to apply for a visa. That would require an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Tightening up that screening process would address one threat raised by the Paris assault. Some of the people who carried out that attack held European passports and could have come to the U.S. with little scrutiny.

The House bill will also remove from the visa waiver program the citizens of countries that don’t cooperate with the U.S. in sharing information about terrorism. It will require travelers in the waiver program to have passports with chips that contain biometric data.

This isn’t foolproof protection. Nothing will be. But it does address one potential vulnerability. President Barack Obama appears to be on board. A Senate version, likely with more stringent provisions, is in the works. Officials hope reconciled legislation can be attached to a spending bill that needs to pass within days to keep the government operating.

Washington has more to do on homeland security, in the wake of recent attacks directed or inspired by Islamic State. Tashfeen Malik entered the country in 2014 on a fiancee visa program secured by her marriage to her American-born husband, Syed Rizwan Farook. Their elaborate preparations for the assault in San Bernardino went undetected.

More than half the nation’s governors are demanding that the Obama administration pause the acceptance of Syrian refugees to the U.S. pending a review of their screening.

There are serious, legitimate questions about U.S. security.

And then there’s Donald Trump.


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