Barack Obama’s Trumpesque policies

Trump will be surprised to find that his idea of extreme vetting of Muslim immigrants has already been implemented.

Obama holds a roundtable with Muslim American community leaders at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Catonsville, Maryland
President Barack Obama holds a round table with Muslim American community leaders at a Baltimore mosque [Reuters]

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on restoring economic security by curbing illegal immigration, and restoring physical security by banning outright or severely limiting immigration of Muslims to the United States.

When challenged during the debates about his proposal to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, Trump responded by pointing out that “President [Barack] Obama has moved millions of people out. Nobody knows about it. Nobody talks about it. But under Obama, millions of people have been moved out of this country. They’ve been deported.”

Trump’s statement that nobody talks about President Obama’s aggressive deportation policies was an over-generalisation, as the Department of Homeland Security’s statistics on deportations are matters of public record and have been widely reported and protested.

What Trump presumably meant was that none of his supporters were aware of President Obama’s vigorous enforcement policies. The same can be said for Trump’s proposal for “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants, which he apparently believes is a novel idea, ignored by the Obama administration.

He was wrong here, too. The Obama administration, without congressional authorisation, has already engaged in extreme vetting, but when it comes to the Obama administration’s extreme vetting of Muslims, Trump and his supporters’ ignorance is more forgivable.

Extreme vetting of Muslims began in 2008 under a programme dubbed the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Policy, also known as CARRP. Shrouded in secrecy and barely publicised by the media, CARRP authorises special vetting by the FBI of persons thought to pose a terrorism threat. As a practical matter, all of the immigrants subjected to CARRP are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.

Vague and questionable factors such as unusual travel patterns to countries with high levels of terrorist activity, large transfers of funds, or proficiency in certain technical skills can land applicants on this secret separate track.


CARRP mandates the rejection of any person whose name appears on a Terrorist Watch List. These lists are shrouded in secrecy, and there is no way for a person to know whether he or she has been placed on the list, let alone challenge such placement in a court of law.

Omission from a Watch List, however, does not mean that a perspective Muslim seeking to obtain residency or citizenship is in the clear. CARRP mandates that anyone who demonstrates other “national security indicators” in their application also be placed in that separate track for adjudication.

Vague and questionable factors such as unusual travel patterns to countries with high levels of terrorist activity, large transfers of funds, or proficiency in certain technical skills (which includes foreign language expertise) can land applicants on this secret separate track.

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For example, an individual with a PhD in South Asian languages who has traveled to and from Pakistan for a conference will be identified as a possible potential national security concern, whose application will be delayed or denied under CARRP.

Once a person is caught in CARRP, the time limits set by Congress for adjudication become meaningless, and under the best of circumstances adjudication will be withheld for years while appointments are cancelled by the government without explanation and case requests administratively closed without notice.

At best, an applicant can expect to be interrogated by FBI agents on matters entirely unrelated to the application under examination, including their political and religious beliefs, the mosques they attend, beliefs of other persons in the community, etc.

Based on Trump’s rhetoric, these are precisely the type of policies that he wants to pursue to curb terrorism. The key to CARRP was maintaining a fig leaf of neutral language that did not identify any religious or ethnic factors, to hide what amounted to religious and racial profiling.

Whereas President Obama succeeded in his programmes by keeping them secret, Trump prides himself on “telling it like it is”.

For Muslim Americans, Trump’s repudiation of politically correct language may have a silver lining, by stripping away the artful denials of discrimination in American immigration policy and demonstrating the pervasive anti-Muslim bias.

Whether Trump maintains President Obama’s discriminatory policies or tries to expand them, religious tests for government benefits are plainly prohibited by the First Amendment of US Constitution.

Trump is about to discover that telling it like it is has a price and that before his administration subjects Muslim immigrants to extreme vetting, his policies are likely to be subject to the strict scrutiny of the US courts.

Charles Swift is a retired Lieutenant Commander with the United States Navy and worked in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Military Commissions from 2003 to 2007. He is a past Visiting Professor for Emory University School of Law and currently serves as the Director of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, a legal nonprofit organisation which challenges unconstitutional treatment of Muslims through the legal system. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.