Among the parade of unreasonable ideas that Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump has put forth is that we should seal our borders and stop granting visas to anyone who is a Muslim. His press release says that he supports "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
Set aside if you will the legality of this plan under current immigration and other laws, and assume that he means what he says. But what does it mean, really, to seal our borders against Muslims? There are a number of fascinating operational questions that immediately arise. Let's have fun and just list the weirdest ones.
Example one: You are a US citizen, and you were born here of parents who were also US citizens. You have decided for good and sufficient personal reasons to embrace the faith of Islam. You have a passport, no criminal record, no pending civil judgments, not so much as even a traffic ticket. You decide to take a vacation to Montreal and go skiing at Mt. Tremblanc. Vacation over, you attempt to come home, only to find that since you are a Muslim, you cannot get back into the country. Your skis make it through customs just fine, however.
So how many people does this affect? No one knows. Estimates of the number of Muslims in America range from two to seven million, but the US Census does not ask about nor record religious preference. Wikipedia cites a number of 3.3 million but with uncertain backup. Most numbers are derived from small sample size surveys of religious preference, and those numbers then generalized onto the total US population.
Well, damn, we'd better fix that, maybe we need an emergency census to see what this obvious fifth column that's already here (gasp!) amounts to. Plus we have to start putting religious affiliation on all our identifying documents.
Example Two: You are a US citizen and a non-practicing Muslim, and have patriotically enlisted in and become a member of the US Marine Corps. Your unit deploys to Afghanistan where after eight months of constant combat you are badly wounded defending your comrades. You are medevac'd back to Japan, and then to the military hospital in Ft Sam Houston in Texas. Only they don't let you off the plane and instead send you back to Sendai, since Muslims aren't allowed into the country.
How many of there are you in the armed forces of the US? No one really knows. When Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas in a 2009 shooting rampage, this became a more interesting question. It was noted that when he enlisted he did not list his religion. In 2008 this number was reported as 3409. But since personnel are free to list "no preference" on their enlistment forms, as did Maj Nidal, there is no good way to validate these numbers. When I joined the US Army, the only place my religious preference was requested was on my dog tags, where I listed "Prot No Pref." But you didn't have to put down anything.
Example Three: You're a famous basketball player turned TV commentator. Your network assigns you to cover a game of the Toronto Raptors, being played in Toronto. You go where you're told, and watch the Raptors handily beat the Washington Wizards. When your private jet comes back to Los Angeles, you are escorted into a holding area and sent back to Toronto. You are a Muslim and your name is Shaquille O'Neil.
Example Four: The President sponsors a meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, an international annual gathering of the most important twenty one nations bordering the Pacific Ocean. It is to be held in Washington, and to focus on fighting terrorism. Only three of the countries cannot be invited, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, as their prime ministers are all Muslims.
Example Five: You are a consular official in Turkey, a staunch US ally in the war against terror and a bulwark since cold war days against Russian encroachment. Your job is to process visa requests. These come to you in a two page form, DS-156, easily available on line. The form could be considered to be something of either an intelligence test or an English language test. One of the questions you must answer--yes or no only--is the following:
Do you seek to enter the United States to engage in export control violations, subversive or terrorist activities, or any other unlawful purpose? Are you a member or representative of a terrorist organization as currently designated by the U.S. Secretary of State? Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government of Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide? Have you ever participated in, ordered, or engaged in genocide, torture, or extrajudicial killings?
It would be a pretty good idea to answer this with a "no," one suspects, although if you were a Nazi you would be pretty old by now and not likely to travel. However, there is no place on the form where it asks you for your religion. This is clearly an oversight that will have to be corrected.
It is also interesting to note that there is no place on a California driver's license to list the driver's religion, nor is there a place on a standard US passport for religious affiliation or preference. I checked, although I was pretty sure I knew that answer already.
And I was equally sure I wasn't a Muslim, and to prove it I still had my dog tags, which I will now wear on a regular basis. One cannot be too careful.
Look for Part 2 on this topic.