The executive order that Trump issued on Friday—which barred all refugees and people who hold passports from seven Muslim-majority countries—was said to be about terrorism, but that never was persuasive. The list, it was widely noted, omitted Saudi Arabia, the home of most of the 9/11 attackers ...
“I feel strongly about this,” Donald Trump said a year before his election, on Steve Bannon’s radio show. “When someone’s going to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Stanford, all the greats, and they graduate, and not only graduate but do great, and we throw them out of the country and they can’t get back in, I think that’s terrible. We’ve got to be able to keep great people in the country. We’ve got to create job creators.”
Trump told a story he had heard, about a young man who went to Harvard and wanted to stay in the United States but couldn’t, so he returned to India, where he started a “very successful company.” Trump said, “He wanted to do that here. We have to be careful of that, Steve. We have to keep our talented people in this country.” The candidate seemed interested in how his interviewer would respond: “I think you agree with that. Do you agree with that, Steve?”
Bannon did not agree. He volunteered an invented fact—that two-thirds to three-quarters of Silicon Valley C.E.O.s are from “South Asia or from Asia.” (They are not.) “A country’s more than an economy. We’re a civic society,” Bannon said. There was a back-and-forth. “You gotta remember we’re Breitbart. We’re the know-nothing vulgarians, so we’re always going to be to the right of you on this,” Bannon reminded Trump.
This was an early exchange between the man who would become President of the United States and the one who would be named his chief strategist. Trump and Bannon were trying out their theories on each other; the candidate was measuring the nationalist right, which he knows only by intuition, and the know-nothing vulgarian was measuring the man who would be his champion. Many of Trump’s commitments were already plain: he was by far the most nationalist Republican in the race, the one who had built his candidacy on hostility to “illegal immigrants.” Even so, a real distance separated Trump’s position from Bannon’s. Trump described a person he considered a desirable immigrant, one the country needs—the young Indian-American entrepreneur who graduated from Harvard with a strong G.P.A. For Bannon, the question was not whether immigrants were making contributions but whether their presence altered “civic society.” Part of what is in question now, in the fallout from the travel ban, is whether the gap between their views still exists at all.
The executive order that Trump issued on Friday—which barred all refugees and people who hold passports from seven Muslim-majority countries—was said to be about terrorism, but that never was persuasive. The list, it was widely noted, omitted Saudi Arabia, the home of most of the 9/11 attackers; meanwhile, no one from the seven countries included in the order has committed a deadly act of terrorism in the U.S. since 2001. The list includes both Shiite and Sunni countries, those whose governments work in concert with the United States and those that are our avowed enemies. The departments that might have helped to weigh the risk of nationals from different countries, including Homeland Security and State, were not consulted. The order was reportedly written by a young policy adviser to the President, Stephen Miller, and Bannon.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that a draft of another executive order on immigration was circulating at the White House. We do not know whether the President will sign it, but it makes the new Administration’s view of immigrants plainer. The circulating draft order, according to the Post, would revoke work visas for foreign nationals whose jobs are deemed to be not in “the national interest.” It would task the Department of Homeland Security with exploring deportation for legal immigrants who had received public assistance within five years of their arrival. The order would further require that D.H.S. produce reports twice a year on the number of workers who are foreign-born, whether they are here legally or not.
One especially outrageous element of the first immigration ban was that it applied not just to new immigrants, students, and travellers from those seven mostly Muslim countries but also to people who hold American green cards—permanent legal residents of the United States—who originally came from those places. Some of these green-card holders have been legally in the U.S. for decades. Over the weekend, the White House pulled back, and said that the ban would no longer apply to people with green cards. For a moment, it seemed possible that the targeting of legal immigrants had not really been thought through or intended, just part of the chaos of the early days of the Trump Administration.
The draft order makes that much harder to believe. Like the initial inclusion of green-card holders, its philosophy seems to be to smudge out the old distinction that governed conservative immigration policy, between those who are here legally and those who are not, and replace it with a far uglier distinction, between those who were born here and those who were not. The Administration’s approach to immigration does not seem to be about terrorism or jobs. In stages this week, a veil has dropped.
Brin, who had been at the earlier protests at San Francisco International Airport, said that he was personally outraged, as a refugee. “I came here to the U.S. with my family, at age six, from the Soviet Union, which was, at that time, the greatest enemy the U.S. had—maybe it still is in some form,” Brin said. “The risks of, at the time, letting in these foreigners from a land that might spy on you, learn the nuclear secrets, and send them back—and there were many cases of espionage—those risks were far greater than the terrorism risks we face today. And, nevertheless, this country was brave and welcoming.” If the United States “was not a brave country that really stood out and spoke for liberty,” Brin said, “I wouldn’t be where I am today or have any kind of the life that I have today.” And, he did not need to say, his audience would not have an employer, and the rest of us would not have Google.
That is part of Brin’s account of the relationship between Google and the United States, in which it pays to be a place where talented people feel safe and wanted. It makes you wonder, What is Bannon’s theory, or Trump’s?
The protests against Trump’s travel ban have been furious, and have come from many different angles. One prominent strain, from university and tech-industry leaders like Brin, has been that the country is risking a brain drain: in the short term, the ban may cost us talent and innovation; in the long term, jobs and preëminence. Many people reminded one another that Steve Jobs’s biological father is a Syrian immigrant. At VentureBeat, Adam Ghahramani listed the tech businesses that owed their existence to Iranian-Americans: eBay, for sure, and Tinder, and arguably Oracle and Twitter. University presidents worried that the foreign-born science talents who help fill their graduate schools and lead research and innovation would start to go elsewhere. Some Republicans worried out loud about what would happen to our health-care system if foreign-born doctors, nurses, and researchers were excluded or alienated. The C.E.O. of Ford protested, and so did the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs. There are parallel anxieties about less élite settings. “Cities in Midwest, Rust Belt Say They Need Immigrants,” a headline in the Wall Street Journal read. An economy as large as America’s is constantly reinventing itself, at all levels. It needs new influxes of people.
But if the White House is interested in deporting legal immigrants who may need public assistance, or in tracking the number of foreign-born workers regardless of their immigration status, it isn’t obvious that the arguments coming from Silicon Valley will move them. If talented engineers and scientists begin to leave for other places, will that bother the White House?
Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, who is reportedly considering legal actionagainst the Trump Administration over the order, has said that he is speaking to “very, very senior people” in the Administration about the immigrants’ importance to Apple and to the country. What he will want to know, from those conversations, is whether the President still believes, as he did fifteen months ago, that the benefits that immigrants bring to America are an essential part of his calculations, or whether there has been a change.