By Gregg Zoroya
August 17, 2016
In calling for "extreme vetting" of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard — since abandoned — that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs.
"We should only admit into this country those who share our values and respect our people," Trump said Monday, explaining how he would deter terrorists from entering the U.S.
He cited an immigration law passed in 1952 over a veto by President Harry Truman that allowed consular officers to judge applicants based on their ideological views. In the years that followed, homosexuality was included as a reason for barring entry.
"It became an embarrassment for America," said former Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts.
The ideological screening and ban on classes of individuals such as homosexuals, were excised in a series of immigration law revisions between 1986 and 1990. Frank, the first openly gay member of Congress, co-authored the 1990 law.
"We were going to scrub this and get rid of all these categories of exclusion and instead say, 'You can't come here if you are going to do us harm,'" said Frank, who served in Congress from 1981 to 2013. "In other words, your political opinion was irrelevant."
Frank worked with Alan Simpson, then a Republican Senator from Wyoming, on the changes, which received near unanimous approval by Congress in 1990.
Both men today said they can't fathom how ideological screening based on a set of American "values" — as Trump suggested — could work in a nation of diverse beliefs. "What are the values? How do you decide them? And who decides whether they're good or bad," Frank said.
"Don't give me the American values stuff. I can't handle that," said Simpson, who retired in 1997. "Those are individual values. The only thing we have in common is a common flag and a common language."
Trump spent several minutes during his speech on terrorism calling into question the toughness of current vetting policies for the millions who enter the United States, a complex security review process that admits 40 million foreigners each year on temporary visas for business, education and other reasons. Some people enter more than once, and just over 1 million arrive to live here permanently.
Nearly 1,200 people who tried to enter the U.S. on temporary visas in 2014 were rejected based on terrorist grounds, according to a Congressional Research Service report last year.
"The burden of proof is always on the foreign national to prove they're eligible," said Ruth Wasem, author of the report and professor of public policy at Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.
A triad of government departments — State, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services — work together to conduct the most thorough immigration reviews for the roughly 70,000 allowed to enter the U.S. as refugees seeking asylum, often from war-torn countries, according to Homeland Security. President Obama raised that figure to 85,000 for this year.
In 2014, this included 14,582 refugees from Iraq, 12,514 from China, 9,804 from Burma and 652 from Syria, according to federal data. In response to the Syrian civil war, which has generated 4.8 million refugees, Obama promised last year to take in 10,000 refugees from Syria.
When Congress raised concerns last fall about the risk of allowing "sleeper" terrorists to infiltrate the United States through the refugee program, The State Department publicly outlined the security screening, which admits asylum applicants “only after subjecting them to the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States.”
The process can take up to two years. Applicants identified as refugees, most of them by United Nations officials, have their personal data collected and files started on them at resettlement support centers operated by the U.S. around the world — places like Amman, Havana, Beirut, Nairobi and Moscow.
The State Department describes refugees as people with a well-founded fear of prosecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group. Syrians seeking refugee status go through additional scrutiny because Islamic State terrorists are based in Syria.
A Homeland Security team is sent to interview each applicant and information collected is cross-checked with databases operated by the FBI, Department of Defense and National Counterterrorism Center. The screening officers undergo an eight-week course on how to elicit information and gauge credibility, the State Department said. Some top destinations for refugees are Atlanta, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Boston. The annual cost of the refugee vetting process is $1.1 billion.
Refugee applicants can be questioned about their religious affiliations, but there are no grounds for barring them based on their adherence to Sharia law, an Islamic religious code of behavior, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In his speech, Trump said foreigners should be barred if they believe "Sharia law should supplant American law."
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com