The tumult that resulted from the White House’s temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries ought to provide a teachable moment for the Trump administration.
The executive order, among other things, was poorly prepared, needlessly creating a host of complications and burdens. It was written without input by key departments. It put front-line workers in the untenable position of trying to make decisions on important issues the directive failed to address.
The order left people stranded overseas, separated family members at airports and left matters uncertain for university students and tech workers with “permanent legal residency” status. The order also threw up obstacles for entry by Iraqi translators who have provided assistance to our troops in the fight against terrorism.
The administration will be inviting more trouble for itself and the country if it uses this same subpar approach in tackling other issues, such as Obamacare. Among the lessons the administration needs to learn in the wake of recent days:
» Involve far more people in policy preparation. The executive order, according to NBC, was developed by White House staff without consulting the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State. Those agencies have direct responsibilities on aspects of refugee issues, yet they were inexplicably left in the dark about the directive’s release until the last minute.
Coordination among appropriate federal departments isn’t a mere nicety; it’s a central tool for addressing complications beforehand and getting all appropriate players in the loop.
Federal departments with direct responsibility on this issue have been forced to scramble and play catch-up because of the irresponsible “go it alone” actions by White House staff.
» Recognize that details matter. Saying that the order carried out a well-known campaign stance by President Donald Trump is insufficient. Substance matters at least as much as form. Converting broad campaign promises into specific action requires meticulous preparation, particularly in cases involving important legal considerations.
The White House stumbled badly on this score. The executive order, among other things, failed to provide adequate guidance on how to handle cases involving green card holders (permanent legal residents), dual nationals (a citizen of one restricted country and one nonrestricted country such as Canada or Britain) and asylum seekers.
» Avoid surprises, think through real-world consequences. The executive order caught most by surprise — including the federal workers charged with enforcing it. The result was confusion for those workers, plus major disruption for individuals and families, universities with foreign students and faculty and private-sector employers. Tech companies have made clear their exasperation with the problems the order has created for them.
Trump won the election and made clear his intention to toughen the vetting process for admitting refugees. It’s within the president’s authority to take action on this matter. And careful vetting, per se, is not necessarily a bad idea.
It’s true, too, that the Obama administration banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months in 2011. Although the Obama administration raised its annual refugee cap to 110,000 for this budget year and accepted 12,587 people from Syria, the number of Syrian refugees admitted by the United States previously was surprisingly tiny (1,682 in fiscal 2015; 105 in fiscal 2014; and 36 in fiscal year 2013).
Such considerations don’t erase the fact that with its initial actions on the refugee issue, the Trump administration botched it. Rather than getting defensive, the administration needs to learn the lesson here and use careful planning, communication and solid execution to increase the chances of getting things right the first time.