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White House Just Gave A Terrible Defense Of Trump's Refugee Ban

Press secretary Sean Spicer said a Syrian refugee allowed into the U.S. was vetted. He's right. So were a lot of others who can't get in.

31/01/2017 9:30 AM AEDT | Updated 01/02/2017 1:14 AM AEDT

WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump justifies halting refugee resettlement in the U.S. because the system for vetting immigrants is inadequate ― or worse. 

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday defended Trump’s chaos-inducing executive order, which also bars travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. But he didn’t condemn the fact that at least one Syrian refugee initially detained under the ban was released into the U.S.

Why not? Because the person was vetted.

“I think every individual that’s gone through the process has gone through vetting to make sure they don’t pose a threat to this country, so the individual must have gone through the system,” Spicer said. “It’s pretty plain and simple.”

“But I thought you didn’t ...” the reporter tried to interject. Spicer didn’t let him finish the question.

Spicer’s statement contradicted the logical foundation of the executive order Trump signed on Friday. The president has long claimed that Syrian refugees in particular don’t get enough scrutiny. Trump ordered a 120-day suspension of all refugee resettlement so government officials can review the screening process to “determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”

Plenty of experts say this is unnecessary. There’s already an extensive vetting process that government officials have said is being continually improved. Halting resettlement to consider more changes will mean tens of thousands of refugees already screened will languish in camps.

Numerous legal challenges to Trump’s order argue that people should be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they’ve already been allowed entry, are in transit or have valid visas. Thanks to one court ruling, some people already have been admitted.

If the White House truly believes refugees aren’t adequately screened, Spicer should have decried the weekend release of the Syrian refugee into the U.S. Instead, he noted the person was vetted. So is every other individual approved to come to the United States, but who Trump now won’t allow in.

Spicer also defended the travel ban on anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, which he said wasn’t based on any specific intelligence about threats. He said the order only led to temporary inconvenience for 109 people, “for the safety of us all.” That figure, he said, included people who landed at U.S. airports and weren’t allowed to leave. 

The White House provided no evidence to support the tally. The figure doesn’t include hundreds of people with valid visas who were never allowed to board U.S.-bound planes, and tens of thousands who Trump has blocked from the country for months or indefinitely. 

Spicer defended the detention of a 5-year-old Iranian boy, who was separated from his parents, by saying it was a good thing to slow down the process and assess people before they were let in.

“That’s why we slow it down a little, to make sure that if they are a 5-year-old, that maybe they’re with their parents and they don’t pose a threat,” he said. “But to assume that just because of someone’s age or gender or whatever that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong.”  

Spicer isn’t really making a case for Trump’s ban on this point, either. He’s saying that it’s important to vet people and admit them on a case-by-case basis, and that making assumptions is wrong.

But Trump’s executive order doesn’t create vetting where none existed. It uses a blanket assumption about nationals of certain countries and all refugees to stop admitting even people who have undergone months of vetting. 

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