What Would It Take to Make the Ban Worth It?

As I was in the shower yesterday, a thought occurred to me. (Most good thinking happens in the shower, I’ve found.) Trump’s immigration ban is primarily aimed at keeping America safe. That’s the stated objective, at least. And ignoring for the moment the fact that no refugees or immigrants from the countries that have been hit with the ban have yet to commit any dastardly deeds in America, let’s run with that argument for a bit.

Imagine for a moment that you were the president, and your advisors came to you early on in your presidency, telling you that they’ve developed a new technology that lets them see the future. Not perfectly, but enough to know some general things. Using this tech, they’ve discovered that in the coming year, a terrorist is going to come into the country disguised as a refugee or an immigrant. They’re not sure which country they’ll come in from, but they’ve got it narrowed down to seven.

If the terrorist gets in, it’s certain they’ll be successful in their plans. But your advisors have found a way to prevent it all. Ban all refugees and immigrants from those 7 countries, and you’ll avoid the whole thing.

So basically, imagine for a moment that Trump’s ban is successful in doing what he says he wants it to do.

What would it take for you to feel like the ban was justified? How big of an attack would it have to be? In other words, how many American lives would have to be lost in order for you to be glad the ban happened? For the sake of argument, let’s say that the ban stops the terrorist along with 60,000 refugees from those countries. (To get to that number, I’m using Trump’s estimates. The Obama administration had stated it wanted to let in 110,000 refugees this 2017. After the executive order, the Trump administration  lowered that estimate to 50,000.) Let’s also assume all the immigrants who are kept out aren’t adversely affected, just to keep things simple. We’ll only look at the refugees.

So. 60,000 refugees turned away from our borders, but one “bad dude” also kept out, and one terrorist plot foiled. How many of those refugees end up dying as a result of the ban? I’m picking a number out of a hat, but I’ll try to keep it low. Let’s say 5%. They’re coming from countries that are torn by ISIS and war, after all. So 3,000 of them are going to die if the ban goes into effect.

How big of an attack prevented makes that worthwhile?

I imagine the response to that question will vary widely depending who’s answering it. Some might say that a single American life lost is too many. If we can protect one American, then that balances out any number of non-Americans.

Others might say it should be simple math. If the attack were to kill 3,000 Americans or more, then the ban would be justified. Or maybe it wouldn’t have to kill all 3,000 Americans. Maybe it would be enough to injure them, physically or emotionally.

Or perhaps there’s an equation somewhere in between that fits your answer. 1 American affected equals 10 refugees? 50 refugees?

Keep in mind, 2,996 people died on 9/11. That might allow you to put it in scale as you think this over.

Here’s the thing for me: this is a thought experiment. This is a situation where, for the sake of argument, many assumptions are made. In reality, there’s no way of knowing what will happen with the ban in place or what would have happened if it hadn’t been made. I do know that even if a “bad dude” gets into the country, it isn’t the fault of the refugees and immigrants. I wouldn’t blame them. I’d blame the terrorist.

When I was on my mission in Germany, I got to know many refugees. I went to refugee camps and made friends with a lot of the people there. They were open and friendly to missionaries in a way many Germans  were not. I heard firsthand what life was like in the countries they were fleeing. Bosnia. Sierra Leone. Iran. I talked to people whose family had been butchered in front of them. And sure, now they were in Germany, living in a strange land and often in poor conditions (some of the asylum camps were little more than metal shipping containers with pipes run through them for plumbing and electricity), but they were relatively safe.

And they were people. People just like Germans or Americans. People with dreams and aspirations.

Perhaps it’s due to those experiences I had, but I can’t come up with an equation that answers my question. Not even when the outcome is known ahead of time. Because in reality, there are many ways to track terrorists and keep people safe. Ways that don’t resort to keeping out refugees and immigrants. Ways that allow us to hold our head high as a country. And for these people fleeing countries where their lives are in danger? We might be the one chance they have of safety and a future.

Many Americans like to talk about how awesome our country is. How we’re the land of the free, and how we’re the best in so many categories. How are we doing in taking in refugees? Let’s keep it to Syrian refugees, people fleeing the terrors of ISIS. Here’s how many Syrian refugees different countries have taken in:

  • Turkey: 1.9 million
  • Lebanon: 1.1 million
  • Jordan: 630,000
  • Iran: 250,000
  • Egypt: 130,000
  • Germany: 99,000
  • Sweden: 65,000
  • Serbia: 50,000
  • America: 1,500

In our defense, we have shoved $4.1 billion dollars at the problem, and this was more than a year ago, so perhaps things have improved? But something tells me in an “America First” mindset, that’s not going to be the case.

Anyway. Those are my thoughts this fine morning. I’d like to think America would use its power and wealth and position to do more for the world than just turn a profit and help its own citizens at the expense of everyone else. But maybe I’m in the minority when it comes to how I answer the hypothetical.

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