There’s good news and bad news.
First, the good news. You’re going to have access to the new President on the issue of immigration, if you want it.
President Trump has given CEOs and other corporate chiefs unprecedented opportunities to work directly with him and the White House team. Though Trump has leveled sharp accusations at some companies by name, he has also been quick to bring corporate leaders into the White House and ask for their specific input on policy questions.
In just the first two weeks of his Administration, the President has already hosted West Wing meetings with CEOs from the tech industry, automakers, drug companies, and aerospace and defense executives. On January 23, the President hosted a meeting, arranged by Dow’s CEO Andrew Liveris, that included the CEOs of UnderArmour, Dell, Johnson & Johnson, US Steel, Lockheed Martin, Arconic, Corning, Tesla, International Paper, Whirlpool, and others.
The President opened his first meeting by saying “we will have these meetings … whenever you need them actually, but I would say every quarter.” Trump stayed true to his promise on February 3, when he hosted his business advisory council made up of “world class” CEOs to discuss the Administration’s future actions on immigration, health care, and the economy.
You can be in that room, if you want to be.
Now the bad news. You’re not prepared for the coming meetings on immigration.
As we saw last week, the President rolled out two major policies on immigration – first, the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to deal with illegal border crossing; and second, and more significantly, a sweeping ban on legal visits and migration from refugees and visa holders from seven countries, coupled with a security-based review of vetting procedures. Now reports show the H-1B visa will be targeted next, raising new concerns among American companies.
Among corporate leaders, immigration has traditionally been thought of as an economic issue, one that impacts companies and their ability to recruit employees from a global talent pool. Immigration policy has also been seen as a prism through which we measure our government’s commitment to certain values, such as justice, fairness, and compassion — values that we know your employees care about a great deal.
But that is not how President Trump and his advisors view immigration. For this new team, immigration is viewed principally through the lens of counter-terrorism and national security. Accordingly, if you want to be effective in providing input to the Trump team on immigration, you have to advocate on the basis of national security.
There is a significant amount of publicly available information – testimony, reports, press pieces – that provide proper context on the threat posed by ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other organizations. You need to get smart quickly on these issues so that you can incorporate them into your public discussion of immigration.
There are experts and validators, including national security professionals, who can help articulate the strategic downsides of blanket travel bans. Such downsides include requiring our intelligence and law enforcement professionals to take their eye off actual threats and unnecessarily providing terrorists with recruiting and propaganda tools.
As we have seen, the White House should never implement major changes to immigration policy without the input of professionals at the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and State. The process fouls that have occurred over the past week have been a major source of the problem.
If there is an opportunity for you or your company to provide input on the Executive Order – and there will be such opportunities — you should provide specific changes that will accomplish the goal of ensuring proper vetting of travelers to the United States. Your suggestions should recognize the bona fide national security issues at stake and reflect a sensible approach that is grounded in expertise and fact.
Getting up-to-speed on the national security dimensions of immigration will become important as the Administration looks to make changes to other policies, such as the HB-1 visa authority. The travel ban surely is not the last immigration policy change that will be done in the name of counter-terrorism.
We know you want to stay in your lane. We know your advocacy will center on jobs, competitiveness, and the impact on employees. But we also know those arguments will lose if they are not coupled with a forceful argument about what will keep our country safe.
Michael Allen served as republican staff director on the House Intelligence Committee and a senior director in President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. Jeremy Bash served as a Democratic chief counsel on the House Intelligence Committee and chief of staff at CIA and DOD under President Barack Obama. Both are managing directors at Beacon Global Strategies, a consulting firm that advises companies on national security issues.