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U.S. Ban On Travelers From Several Countries Upheld By High Court

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump promised a hard-line approach to immigration, and we are seeing that play out now. First, it was the policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration walked that policy back last week, but it still maintains it is taking a zero tolerance approach to people crossing the border illegally. And then yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld the president's controversial ban on travelers from seven countries, five of which are majority Muslim.

Michael Anton was a national security official in the Trump administration and was a proponent of the travel ban. He's now lecturer and research fellow at Hillsdale College.

Michael Anton, welcome back to the program.

MICHAEL ANTON: Thank you.

GREENE: So the travel ban has now been upheld by the Supreme Court. You were in the administration as it was designing this and the two versions that preceded it. I just wonder - I mean, the Supreme Court had allowed this ban to stay in place as it was considering this case. Has it made the country safer? Can you say with certainty?

ANTON: Well, it will make the country safer going forward. It had been difficult to implement given lower court rulings. But the Supreme Court found that the program itself is both consistent with statute law, which I think is extremely clear if you read the majority opinion and read the relevant statute, and also that the constitutional objections raised by lower court judges were ultimately not serious. They've tried to rest on the Establishment Clause, that somehow this was a, quote, unquote, "Muslim ban." Well, as you pointed out, two of the countries, North Korea and Venezuela, covered by the travel order are not majority Muslim. And when we factor in the other five countries...

GREENE: Although we should say the president...

ANTON: ...It covers less than 10 percent of the world's Muslim populations. The criteria for these countries are that these are countries that either cannot or will not provide adequate screening to people in those countries who want to come here.

GREENE: And we should say that - forgive me. The Supreme Court did say that they were separating what the president has said about Muslims and this ban in the past and what is, in their view, the law. But we should say...

ANTON: And the dissent...

GREENE: ...The president himself - excuse me - at one point, did call this a Muslim ban. So I wonder, does he still see this as a way to keep at least some Muslims out of the United States?

ANTON: He sees it as a way to keep - keep in mind, too, the original order, as drafted, focused on countries that had been identified by Congress as having inadequate security screening procedures. Iraq was on the first list and was eventually taken off the order because Iraq worked with the U.S. government to improve its screening procedures to a point where the government felt confident...

GREENE: Which...

ANTON: ...That it knew who was coming over and it felt that the risk had declined enough that that country no longer had to be covered.

GREENE: And that's exactly what I wanted to ask you about. Is this temporary? As soon as these countries show that they have proper screening in the views of the administration, this ban will be dropped?

ANTON: Well, the administration has made clear that that's always a possibility. But it really will depend on the willingness of those other countries to work with the administration.

GREENE: Because I was thinking about the president's travel ban when I read a piece that you wrote, an op-ed in The Washington Post, recently. You were posing several questions. One is, does the United States need more people? You also wrote, we know how more immigration benefits big business and the Democratic Party. No one has convincingly explained how it benefits the American people as a whole. So is that the policy of this administration, that maybe immigration in general is not a good idea?

ANTON: Look, I think the travel ban and immigration policy overall are separable issues. They're not the same. Travel ban is fundamentally a security question. It's not about immigration policy. It's not about who gets green cards. It's about who can come over here. People who abuse our visa system, people who abuse temporary stays and...

GREENE: Sure. But I'm talking about the president's approach to immigration as a whole. I mean, you worked for him. Is his approach as a whole that maybe immigration is not the best thing for the United States - that maybe, as you asked yourself...

ANTON: I think his approach as a whole is that...

GREENE: ...Does the United States need more people?

ANTON: ...The system is broken. We lacked adequate border security. We lacked all kinds of enforcement. We weren't enforcing existing laws as written. All of that has got to be fixed. It needs to be reformed.

GREENE: What do you tell, say, a Yemeni-American family who feels that they have given so much to this country - worked in jobs, served in the military, maybe served in police forces - and they are now wondering if they will ever be able to bring their family into this country again because of this ban?

ANTON: Are you asking about a Yemeni family that's already here legally when you say worked in jobs and served in police forces...

GREENE: Yeah.

ANTON: ...And given so much of this country?

GREENE: Yeah, I'm wondering if they can bring their family here.

ANTON: If they are already here legally, I would say the Yemeni government has got to get its own act together, work with the United States government and make sure that we can identify people who are threats and people who aren't threats. You know, you can find a million different sympathetic cases 'cause one of the things we have seen over the last couple weeks - the media's been focusing on a couple of sympathetic cases, ginning up a lot of very emotional stories and saying that these sympathetic cases and the emotional responses people derive from them should make policy. That really doesn't make sense. And no administration can really afford to make policy on the basis of emotion and sympathy alone. They have to make policy based on considerations of the national interest and what's best for American citizens, for workers already here and for the American people and their security.

GREENE: Michael Anton is a former national security official with the Trump administration.

Thanks, as always. We appreciate it.

ANTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.