Donald Trump is on the record as saying that Muslims who are not already U.S. citizens or serving in our military should be banned from entering the country. This call has been roundly condemned as inhumane, bigoted and even un-American. His supporters point out correctly, that most of the high-profile terrorist acts being committed today are done so in the name of Islam. New York, Washington, D.C. , London, Madrid, Paris, Paris again, and San Bernardino were all hit by radical Islamist terror. They would also point out that no other religion currently has such an acute connection with terror. They rightly state that the FBI admits that the Syrian refugees can’t be properly vetted. Given these facts, Trump’s solution might seem quite reasonable then on its face. Set aside the dubious Constitutional, moral, and American values arguments for a moment, the proposal is not a practical or even workable policy.
Just as we Americans, most people the world over possess documents that establish our identity, our ID. Most have passports, Drivers Licenses, Mortgages, bank records that establish who we are to the rest of society. Most of these records though lack one piece of critical information that would be crucial to enacting any ban on Muslims, or any other religious group from this or any other country—one’s religion. Marriage records, birth certificates, and military ID “dog” tags are the only bits of ID that typically would state or give a clue as to the holder’s religion. Chances are that Syrian refugees aren’t showing up at the camps with all of these in a fireproof box or in a manila folder.
Even if the typical refugee came armed with all of these documents, the second that word got out that America or any other western country was no longer accepting Muslims, these documents would quickly disappear. They surely would not be offered up as proof of identification. If ever the question of religion was put to them, either by a person or a questionnaire, the answer would probably be “Christian”. Even “atheist” would be acceptable.
If at a point of entry into the United States an Immigration official were to ask a visitor, any visitor, their religion and the answer was anything accept “Muslim” or “Islam”, how exactly would the official proceed to determine if that statement was untrue? Would the person attempting to gain entry be forced to recite the Lord’s Prayer, or prove they are not a Muslim by eating pork? Would any woman not wearing a Hijab be automatically let in?
What can be reliably determined in most cases is what country and what part of that country a person is from. Most countries are broken down into states, parishes, districts, or other such zones that can be identified as having significant terror or religious radical populations. Documents that list the person’s former address can be cross referenced with other sources and other documents. Finding corroborating records could be especially problematic in the case of Syrian refugees, as ISIS has captured passport making machines and passport blanks.
Our American history, values, and compassion compel us to let in what refugees we can from war-torn countries. Those same virtues don’t compel us however to act in a suicidal manner while doing so. We know that some Jihadists seek to exploit the refugee crisis as a means to entering the West. In some cases, there may be no way at all to properly vet those from Syria. While we sympathize with their plight, we cannot verify who many of them are. In some cases, we have to resolve ourselves to the fact that some of them can never be left into the country. We can prioritize who we let in or allow to proceed to the next steps of the immigration process. The extremely old, and the extremely young and their immediate families we can give some latitude to, as can we with those identifying as Christians or other religious minorities. We can’t promise them entry to the U.S. but we can allow them the chance to try. Ultimately though, our process for winnowing out the most likely to commit terror has to depend upon other factors beside religion, such as country of origin, foreign travel, and family ties. We have to be honest with ourselves and those who wish to enter this country that sometimes, perhaps often times, the answer to whether or not they can enter regrettably must be “no.”