The Trump Administration’s first attempt at a travel ban ended in chaos, mass demonstrations, and lawsuits. On Monday, the President signed a second travel ban, which was billed as a corrective. The scope of the new order was narrower, and, according to a source at the Department of Homeland Security, it “took significant pains to insure clarity in terms of who it applies to and who it doesn’t.” Among other things, travellers who receive valid visas and green cards before the order goes into effect, on March 16th, should be unaffected, so the spectacle of people losing their travel status mid-flight and landing at U.S. airports in legal limbo shouldn’t happen again.
Major questions, though, remain unanswered, including ones about the dubious national-security value of the ban itself. The new order, like the first, bars citizens from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. But as recently as last month intelligence analysts at D.H.S. were arguing that a person’s country of citizenship was “unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” As my colleague Amy Davidson pointed out this week, the threat that President Trump sees in foreign, and especially Muslim, travellers appears to be “a demographic one: not who these people already are but who Trump imagines they are bound to become.” Both executive orders formalize the inflammatory rhetoric that defined Trump’s Presidential campaign. A section of the new order calls on government agencies to publicize crimes by non-citizens, identifying horrors like “honor killings”—which would serve only to dramatize the putative dangers that Muslim immigrants pose to Americans.
This fearmongering, played up for the public, has also been treated as a call to arms by the law-enforcement agents who work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.). (C.B.P. is tasked with implementing the travel ban at the nation’s points of entry. Both C.B.P. and ICE are overseen by D.H.S.) Rank-and-file officers in both agencies welcomed Trump’s election, and have been emboldened since he took office. In the past few weeks, stories have emerged almost daily about federal agents taking increasingly aggressive measures to pursue undocumented immigrants for deportation.
In the wake of the first travel ban, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Cardozo Law School filed a complaint to the inspector general of D.H.S., detailing the “havoc,” “fear,” and “confusion” wrought by C.B.P. agents as they executed Trump’s orders. Travellers were held incommunicado and denied food and medical services while being pressured to sign away basic legal protections. One woman, a doctor from Sudan who’d returned to New York by way of Saudi Arabia, said she was detained at J.F.K. for ten hours and told by agents that if she didn’t sign a form agreeing to leave the country immediately she would be barred from the U.S. for five years. An Iranian father, held for eighteen hours at LAX with no food or a place to sleep, was allegedly carried, against his will, onto a plane to Dubai after he refused to sign a similar document. The most worrisome charges, which D.H.S. denies, were multiple claims that C.B.P. agents at a number of different airports ignored court orders to halt deportations and to allow travellers to confer with their lawyers.
How ICE and C.B.P. agents act once Trump’s new order goes into effect will be nearly as important to watch as the fate of the legal challenges that are mounted against it. The first time around, the Administration put its ban in place without providing guidance to C.B.P. officers on how to execute it. “Having to implement that on the fly, without prior instructions or direction, it essentially defined chaos,” James Tomsheck, the agency’s former head of internal affairs, told me. “There’s no way the frontline C.B.P. officers could be expected to implement an order of that type without considerable warning.”
On Monday, a top official at D.H.S., who spoke on background because he was not authorized to comment on the record, told me that C.B.P. was making preparations for the new ban, which will go into effect nine days from now. “The agency will be monitoring court cases,” the official said, and department “secretaries will send out messaging to D.H.S. personnel and provide clarifying operational guidance.” These precautions directly address the problems created by the hastiness of the earlier order, but the official said that the agency stood by the way it handled the first ban. “C.B.P. implemented it as written,” he said. “We feel very good with how agents responded to implementing the directions of the first executive order.” It seems that within the agency, the new order is seen as a validation of the earlier version—not as an acknowledgment of a past misstep. On Monday, John Kelly, the head of D.H.S., declared, “Unregulated, unvetted travel is not a universal privilege, especially when national security is at stake.” With their leaders talking this way, C.B.P. agents could hardly be expected to feel chastened at all.
When Trump’s New Travel Ban Goes Into Effect, Watch the Border Agents – The New Yorker