Ideas. Action. Results.

Donald Trump’s plan to subject immigrants to “ideological tests,” explained


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

In a speech Monday, Trump laid out an immigration policy that would make it much harder to enter the US — and harder still to move here. He suggested “extreme vetting” for any entrant to the US — from immigrants to tourists — and an “ideological test” for people who wanted to settle down in America for good.

Trump framed this as an act of love for America.

“Pride in our institutions, our history, and our values should be taught by parents and teachers, and impressed upon all who join our society,” he said during the speech. “Our system of government, and our American culture, is the best in the world and will produce the best outcomes for all who adopt it.”

None of this is new. For a century, America’s laws have been concerned with letting in only immigrants who’d uphold American values — though the importance of ideological tests has waxed and waned depending on how threatened the US feels at the time…

Worse, it would probably make it much harder for US citizens to travel abroad. A lot of the visa procedures that the US has for people from, say, Western Europe are based in part on reciprocity with how those countries treat Americans. “It very well could be,” says Theresa Cardinal Brown of the Bipartisan Policy Center, that “if we start adding additional criteria restricting certain types of visas to certain countries, that we may see those countries do the same for us.”

Of course, it’s extremely unlikely that a Trump administration would literally determine that no region of the world has adequate screening. But that raises the question of where the Trump campaign thinks visa screening is inadequate now. (On Monday, Trump predicted there would be “many” such regions, and all but said that the Middle East would be one of them.) And that, in turn, raises the question of whether Trump understands what’s done to screen visas now — and what more he would like to do.

“He claims very frequently that we just can’t vet people, and that that’s incorrect,” says Brown. Trump wants immigration officials to check visa applications for fraud; they already do that. He wants officers in the US to be able to revoke the visas of people who preach hatred; they already do that, too.

“There’s no such thing as zero risk in any security system,” Brown says. This is something that policy experts generally accept, and politicians generally do not — as evidenced by the obsession with making the border “secure.” But right now, agents go through a lot of work before assessing whether someone is an “acceptable risk” to enter the United States. If Donald Trump thinks the definition of “acceptable” is too lax, he still hasn’t clarified exactly what needs to change.