Earlier this week, Sean Spicer was asked to justify the chaos and heartbreak that the Trump administration had unleashed at airports all across the country.
The White House press secretary responded by asking America to cooly assess the costs and benefits of president Trump’s discriminatory travel ban.
“Three-hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand people flew into this country from airports, and 109 people were affected and slowed down in their travel,” Spicer told MSNBC. “I understand that is an inconvenience, but at the end of the day that is a small price to pay as opposed to somebody losing their life because a terrorist attack was admitted.”
Framed like this, Trump’s travel ban does sound like good public policy: Given a choice between slowing down the travel of 109 people — or allowing a fatal terrorist attack to be executed on U.S. soil — most American voters would happily take the former.
The trouble, of course, is that there’s no evidence the ban actually averted a terrorist attack — and considerable reason to think it actually made Americans less safe.
Oh, and Spicer slightly underestimated the number of people inconvenienced by the White House’s gift to ISIS recruiters: Instead of slowing the travel of 109 people, it stripped legal access to the United States from between 60,000 and 100,000 people, depending on which government source you believe. Per the Washington Post:
Over 100,000 visas have been revoked as a result of President Trump’s ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an attorney for the government revealed in Alexandria federal court Friday.
The number came out during a hearing in a lawsuit filed by attorneys for two Yemeni brothers who arrived at Dulles International Airport last Saturday. They were coerced into giving up their legal resident visas, they argue, and quickly put on a return flight to Ethiopia.
Hours later, the State Department contradicted the Justice Department lawyer’s claim.
Regardless, nearly 60,000 revoked visas is a lot of revoked visas. But the White House’s executive order requires such massive action: You can’t ban all travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen without hurting a lot of people.
For those like the brothers at the center of the lawsuit in Alexandria — legal permanent residents who were turned away from American airports last weekend — the government seems to be instituting a case-by-case reprieve policy: If they drop their lawsuit, they will be provided with new visas.
The state of Virginia believes this piecemeal approach is inadequate, as it would allow many who were coerced into forfeiting their green cards to fall through the cracks.
“There’s something very troubling about the way this is playing out,” Virginia solicitor general Stuart Raphael told the Post. “While I am pleased that they are willing to whisk people back if they come to our attention, they won’t come to our attention if we don’t know who they are.”
Those already in the U.S. on revoked visas will be allowed to stay in the country until they expire, the Department of Homeland Security said Friday. However, if those individuals leave the country, they will not be able to return. Visa-holders who happened to be outside the U.S. at the time the order went into effect will not be able to gain entry, unless they are legal permanent residents.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, one State Department official emphasized that the visa revocations are provisional, meaning that they could be reinstated once the temporary ban established by the executive order expires on April 27.
Until then, many members of American communities will remain stranded overseas. On Friday in Alexandria, the state of Virginia sought to join the lawsuit brought by the two Yemeni brothers, so as to defend the interests of the many Virginia residents impacted by the travel ban — among them, a Libyan student at George Mason University who is stuck in Turkey. Judge Leonie M. Brinkema approved Virginia’s request.