Review of Security Screening for Immigrants to US Awaits Completion
President Joe Biden signs several executive orders regarding immigration, in the Oval Office at the White House on Feb. 2, 2021. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Review of Security Screening for Immigrants to US Awaits Completion

President Joe Biden repealed the so-called Muslim ban on immigration, but has instructed a review of the immigrant vetting process, the stated reason for the Trump Administration’s policy    

As one of his first official acts upon taking office, President Joe Biden lifted the so-called Muslim ban put in place by his predecessor. But Biden has repeated the demand for a review of the screening process for immigrants, which the Trump Administration called the central reason for the ban. Biden’s decision to repeal the ban has drawn praise from liberal circles and criticism from conservatives, indicating that what should have been an apolitical consideration of the immigration vetting process continues to be a political football.

Some 41,571 immigrant visas were denied under former President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban from his signing of the executive order during his first week in office through September 2020.

The controversial policy in its original form severely limited the issuing of visas to the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, leading it to be dubbed the “Muslim ban” by critics, who called the policy anti-Muslim. Supporters, in turn, cited security concerns over migrants arriving from the specific countries, a list which included deeply unstable states such as Syria and Yemen.

The Trump policy faced court challenges over the years, leading to the narrowing of its scope. However, a review of the immigrant vetting process, named as a central reason for the limitations, was never completed under the previous administration.

Attorney David Gardner, who has practiced immigration law in California for 40 years, told The Media Line that the original intention of the ban was to limit immigration temporarily, while the security screening procedures in the identified countries was reviewed and improved.

“Take Iran for an example, or Yemen or Syria, they [US consulates] had no capacity to do the background checks that would be required in order to issue visas. And so, they basically said we need to look at this carefully or do extra screening,” he said. “Then the temporary measure sort of became protracted and then the politics of it took over, and the executive orders basically suspended visa issuance from these countries,” he added.

Gardner said the politicization of the issue of immigration is an obstacle to improving the present situation. “I don’t think that executive orders, as such, are the way to deal with them. I think that security screening is something which should be done internally and it shouldn’t be made into a political issue for the media because it’s unfair, it’s unfair to everybody, on one side or the other,” he said.

The Biden Administration, despite deep disagreements with the White House’s previous occupant, appears to be following in its footsteps in one regard – demanding a review of the vetting process. President Biden’s proclamation repealing Trump’s travel ban gave the State Department and Department of Homeland Security 120 days to complete a review of the screening procedures currently in place and to supply the president with recommendations for improving the procedures.

I think they’re very much on guard to make sure that the door doesn’t open too wide, in terms of letting just anybody in.

Neil Weinrib, a New York attorney and an expert in immigration law, said that President Biden is concerned about security and is not looking to open the border right now without checks. Weinrib, who has close ties with the Democratic Party, told The Media Line that the administration is focusing on reuniting children that were separated from their parents while trying to enter the United States illegally.

In addition, Weinrib told the Media Line, “I think they are concerned about terrorism. I don’t think terrorism is exclusively a Trumpian concept. I mean Obama was very much concerned about terrorism and so is Biden. Nobody is in favor of any kind of terrorism. … I think they’re very much on guard to make sure that the door doesn’t open too wide, in terms of letting just anybody in. And also, the ability to search is so much greater now, both in terms of at the port of entry, and for several years they’ve been looking at people’s phone and laptops … I don’t think that will decrease or deteriorate, I think that will continue to be very strong.”

Weinrib, whose clients originate from all corners of the globe, told The Media Line that potential asylum-seekers go through a long screening process. The screening process of Somalian refugees, for example, takes an entire year, and years pass before the entire process is complete and they are allowed into the US. The New York attorney also pointed out that danger does not always come from without, and an airtight screening process will not magically solve all of America’s security worries. People can and have been radicalized after their arrival, he noted, as have their American children, and US citizens that have no connection to the Middle East.

Weinrib called Trump’s Muslim ban “irrational,” and a politically-driven action without a solid factual basis. Trump “was trying to bring America back to pre-World War II, when we were isolationists,” Weinrib told The Media Line. “It was sort of a throwback to that isolationist policy,” and points to a deeper, ideologically-based agenda. Contrarily, Biden, according to Weinrib, is a globalist seeking to reposition the US as a key player in universal concerns, such as climate change and human rights.

Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and a vice president of Republicans Overseas, sees a deeper, ideological undercurrent to Trump’s immigration politics. “One of the fundamental precepts of Trump’s policy in the immigration area generally was America First, that’s the moto. … His administration affirmed the notion and the relevance of what we call neo-nationalism. That countries and borders matter,” Zell said. “Countries have the right, and indeed, the obligation to control who comes in.”

Zell called Biden’s decision to repeal the Muslim ban “dangerous,” and “a national security threat.”

“I think that the American public will react negatively to this. It’s not that they’re against immigration. Immigration built the US, immigration of people who can contribute to the US, to the growth of the country is important, but it’s not open doors,” he said.

Countries have the right, and indeed, the obligation to control who comes in

Political agendas continue to be at the heart of efforts globally to change the screening process for asylum-seekers and potential immigrants. And the security issues brought about by an inability to properly screen these people still exists, Gardner says.

There are many countries where it is easy to produce fraudulent documents, he said.

“I think what the media is missing is that the risk of false documentation and phony claims, whether it is for terrorist reasons or criminal reasons, is rampant all over the world, I mean in many, many countries, not only in Muslim countries,” Gardner said. “And so, the consul’s job is always going to be to screen people.”

“So basically, that’s where it was before Trump issued the executive order,” he said.

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