The quiet of our peaceful early January morning was disrupted by newspaper and TV reports of international outrage following the imposition of President Trump’s Executive Order banning admission to the United States of travelers from a specific group of Muslim-majority countries. It is estimated that the abrupt action resulted in the revocation of more than 60,000 visas. Inexplicable in so many ways, the Order was not formulated in consultation with the State Department, as would have been expected, causing confusion, chaos and calamity at airports around the world, as well as at embassies and consulates whose personnel desperately sought instructions for implementation.
More than 1,000 U.S. State Department foreign service officers immediately reacted to this event by signing a Dissent Channel cable, which was addressed to the Secretary of State and expressed their collective grievances and disagreement with the Order’s visa policy. While it’s safe to say this was probably the first time most Americans had heard of the Dissent Channel, its origins date back to the time of the Vietnam War, when it was officially recognized and incorporated in State Department regulations. Its purpose is to provide diplomatic staff with direct access to the Secretary, free of outside involvement and the risk of retaliation. Its creation during the Vietnam period was triggered when U.S. military forces were discovered to be surreptitiously expanding their operations into Cambodia. Now diplomats have turned again to the Dissent Channel to protest yet another President’s attempt at overreach.
A federal judge issued a nationwide stay of the Order and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently refused to reinstate the ban, ruling it lacked any rationale, where there was “no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named . . . has perpetrated a terrorist act in the United States.” The ban is the quintessential “solution in search of a problem,” a trait common to laws based on animus against one particular group or another.
Beyond being poorly conceived and drafted, the diplomats argue, it would produce little or no benefit to national security, while undermining cooperation worldwide, and thus complicating the fight against terrorism. But perhaps most grievous of all, they wrote, it was action unworthy of this great nation of immigrants which has struggled mightily to move beyond the discriminatory practices of its past. The future of Mr. Trump’s directive is now anyone’s guess. The citizen’s role as vigilant defender of our country’s values can’t be equally uncertain in these times.