Niloofar Asgari, MPA Staff Writer, Brief Policy Perspectives
While campaigning for the presidency, then-candidate Donald Trump made a promise that he would ban Muslims from coming to the U.S. In a quest to keep his promise, President Trump signed two executive orders and one presidential proclamation to form what is collectively referred to as the Muslim Ban, drawing support from allies concerned about national security and opposition from advocacy groups concerned about religious and racial discrimination. The ban, with consequences in both domestic and foreign policy, is directly relevant to larger discussions about civil rights, religious freedom, immigration policy, and national security.
Contextualizing the Muslim Ban
The Trump Administration frames the Muslim Ban as necessary for national security. Those who support the Muslim ban either believe that people coming to America need to have their character “properly vetted” and need to come legally and follow the rules in place. To supporters, the ban is not a Muslim Ban but rather a “travel ban” that is not Islamophobic and only prevents violent people from entering the country.
Those who oppose the ban either cite stories of those who have been adversely impacted by the ban or mention its inherent bigotry. Many people affected by the ban have missed weddings and funerals, lost access to life-saving medical treatment, or lost a place to flee war, famine, and persecution. To opponents of the ban, the idea that they could be a threat or that their nationality is something to criminalize is just plain wrong.
President Trump’s first attempt at the ban took place in January of 2017, via Executive Order 13769. The order reduced the overall number of refugees from any country admitted to the United States, suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, and suspended entry of Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Somalian, Sudanese, Syrian, and Yemeni nationals for 90 days on the basis that their countries do not meet adjudication standards under U.S. immigration law. This version also stipulated that religious minorities from Muslim majority countries would receive priority immigration status. After a series of lawsuits against the ban, due to the possibility of religious discrimination, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a temporary restraining order in the case of Washington v. Trump. This decision later upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
However, two months later, President Trump signed Executive Order 13780, which placed restrictions on nationals from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. While the ban on travel and immigration was supposed to be in place for 90 days and the ban on refugee entry for 120 days, the order clarified that green-card holders and lawful permanent residents from these countries are not affected – most likely added due to questions about the scope of Executive Order 13769. In this version, Iraq was removed from the list but still noted as in need of additional scrutiny. Initially, this version was struck down by the District Court for the District of Hawaii via a temporary restraining order and by the District Court for the District of Maryland via preliminary injunction due to concerns of religious discrimination. However, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on the ban and allowed parts of the ban to become active in June of 2017.
On Sept. 24, 2017, President Trump issued Presidential Proclamation 9645, which further clarifies the scope of Executive Order 13780. Most notably, Chad was initially added to the list until April of 2018, when President Trump removed Chad from the list due to improvements in their security standards. Also, North Korea and Venezuela, two majority non-Muslim countries, were added to deflect accusations of religious discrimination. However, upon closer observation, this ban still disproportionately affected people from predominately Muslim countries. The restriction on Venezuela only affects certain government personnel and their immediate families on B-1 and B-2 visas. Similarly, though all North Koreans on immigrant and non-immigrant visas were suspended from entry, the United States, on average, does not receive many visitors or immigrants from North Korea in the first place. Nonetheless, on Jun. 26, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld this version in the case of Trump v. Hawaii. While a victory for President Trump and his supporters, civil rights activists, advocacy groups, and those who have been adversely impacted by the ban are feeling the effect of this loss.
Aftermath and The No-Ban Act
Since the Supreme Court’s final ruling, action regarding the Muslim Ban has centered on examining the fairness of the visa waiver process for people coming from affected countries. The visa waiver process provides certain exceptions to affected nationals whose inability to enter will either cause undue hardship or be a detriment to America’s national security. In the first 11 months since the Muslim Ban was ruled constitutional, only 6 percent of applications successfully resulted in a waiver. Even after receiving a waiver, the successful applicant then must apply for a visa, which further delays family reunions and access to safety. The difficulty in acquiring a waiver has prompted lawsuits.
Meanwhile, a new policy-centered approach has taken root. In April 2019, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) introduced the No Ban Act (H.R. 2214). The No Ban Act specifically adds religion as a protected category under Section 202(a)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and would nullify the current Muslim Ban. The No Ban Act would also require that the President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Homeland Security provide specific evidence-based on credible facts behind decisions to ban entry of “any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States.” The bill includes a list of limitations that the executive branch has in choosing to ban groups from entry. It has 203 co-sponsors across Congress and support from advocacy groups around the country.
Based on current Congressional dynamics and the lack of bipartisan co-sponsors, the No Ban Act faces an uphill battle to becoming law. The Trump Administration is considering adding more countries to the current ban but has not indicated which countries will be selected and if they are Muslim majority countries. Ultimately, the outcome of President Trump’s consideration and the current Muslim Ban remains to be seen.