Donald Trump has been in charge of the nation’s immigration policies for the past two and a half years, yet his campaign argues in a new ad that the executive branch, which Donald Trump leads, is putting Americans at risk through its poor vetting of immigrants.
“Many of Trump’s Facebook ads use nativist language and target seniors,” according to Axios, and Trump has spent four times as much on ads on immigration as compared to the economy.
One new ad is of particular interest because on its face it argues the president is failing to protect Americans. Sara Fischer of Axios reports, “One active ad campaign on his Facebook page, paid for by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, urges supporters to sign a petition to ‘terminate chain migration.’”
Throughout American history individuals have immigrated to the United States and later helped or sponsored another relative or relatives to immigrate. It is ironic for the Trump campaign to rail against “chain” migration, since Donald Trump is himself a product of “chain” migration: “In 1885, Friedrich Trump, Donald Trump’s grandfather, immigrated from Germany as a 16-year-old with little English to join his oldest sister. . . . In 1930, Mary Anne MacLeod [Donald Trump’s mother] immigrated to America from Scotland as an unskilled 18-year-old to live with her married sister in Queens,” noted a Forbes article. (Donald Trump’s wife Melania sponsored her parents for immigration.)
However, far more interesting in the Trump campaign ad is the argument that the current executive branch led by Donald Trump is putting the safety of Americans “at risk.” This is the type of charge a challenger might make against an incumbent president, not an allegation one expects an incumbent president’s campaign to make against the incumbent president. Yet here is the text of the ad: “Many of these chain migrants are not thoroughly vetted. This policy is a shameless Washington BETRAYAL of regular Americans whose safety is put at risk.” (Emphasis added.)
In many ways, it is extraordinary to see an allegation like this coming from the president’s own campaign. In order to check on current procedures, I contacted the State Department and asked: “Can you please describe the current vetting process for family-based immigrants, including immediate relatives, to ensure such immigrants are thoroughly vetted? What changes have been made to these vetting procedures since January 2017?”
Here is the response I received on background, attributable to a Department of State official:
“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications.
“Every prospective traveler to the United States – including family-based immigrant visa applicants – undergoes extensive security screening. Prohibiting entry to the United States by those who might pose a threat is key to protecting U.S. citizens here at home. Visa applicants are continuously screened, both at the time of their application and afterwards, to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States. This screening draws on information from the full range of U.S. government agencies, including thorough biographic and biometric screening against U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism databases. No visa can be issued unless all concerns raised through the screening process are fully resolved.
“Visa applicant information is typically processed through a series of counterterrorism and law enforcement screening tools, including fingerprint and facial recognition-based checks. Consular officers have the discretion to request additional screening in any case in which information developed in the course of the visa adjudication suggests that such screening is necessary.
“Maintaining robust screening standards for visa applicants is a dynamic practice that must adapt to emerging threats. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.
“Of note, the Department of State continues to fully implement Presidential Proclamation 9645 (PP 9645) – Presidential Proclamation Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats. Additionally, on May 31, 2019, the Department of State updated its immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application forms to request additional information, including social media identifiers, from most U.S. visa applicants. Collecting this additional information from visa applicants will strengthen our process for vetting these applicants and confirming their identity.”
As the Supreme Court’s decision in the travel ban case makes clear, under current law a U.S. president has almost total discretionary authority to institute screening or vetting procedures of visa applicants to ensure the safety of Americans. If those running Donald Trump’s campaign think the current occupant of the Oval Office is putting the safety of Americans “at risk,” then that is newsworthy. If they are instead simply inventing things that don’t conform to the reality of immigration policy, then it would seem that may deserve some attention as well.