Muslim activists in US vow to fight Trump’s new travel ban but there’s a catch
Washington - Muslim activists in the United States said they will fight US President Donald Trump’s new travel ban but some experts warned that the efforts could end up strengthening restrictions instead of weakening them.
Pressure groups and civil rights associations agreed that Trump’s new set of rules is a new version of his earlier two “Muslim bans” that were struck down in part by the courts. Some call the new set of rules a “Muslim Ban 3.0” but the question is whether it is wise to push for a decision by America’s highest court on the matter.
Trump said in a written proclamation on September 24 that citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen would not be able to visit the United States after October 18. The same goes for government officials and their family members from Venezuela. Iraqi travellers would face added checks and restrictions.
Since January, the administration failed twice to impose blanket travel bans on people from a group of predominantly Muslim countries after courts blocked the moves.
The US Supreme Court was to review the issue on October 10 but cancelled the hearing after publication of the new rules. The court asked parties involved to present arguments on October 5 as to whether the case is moot. If the justices dismiss the current legal challenge given the new rules, the Muslim ban critics, including the state of Hawaii and several civil rights groups, would have to start over in lower courts, losing the chance to have the ban thrown out immediately.
Unlike previous travel bans, which were limited to 90 days, the new one suspends entry for purposes of immigration, business trips and tourism indefinitely. Sudan, a country hit with travel bans under the first two models, was taken off the black list but Chad was added. The new rules include exceptions for certain groups in individual countries. For example, exchange students from Iran with valid visas can still enter the United States. Visa holders and legal US residents from the seven countries blacklisted under the new rules are not affected.
Trump said the restrictions are necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the country. “I must act to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people,” Trump said in his proclamation. The new ban can be revoked if a country fulfils US criteria in vetting visa candidates and in sharing terrorism-related data.
During last year’s presidential campaign Trump called for a general entry ban for Muslims, triggering accusations of religious bigotry. The new travel ban does not change that position, critics said. The plan still showed “the intent to fulfil president Trump’s campaign promise,” said Omar Noureldin, a lawyer and vice-president at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), an advocacy group.
Putting a non-Muslim country such as North Korea on the black list did not change the nature of the ban because North Korea was sending few people to the United States anyway, he said.
Muslim Advocates, a pressure group, agreed, saying: “Let us not be fooled by the administration’s attempted tricks and semantics, this is still the same Muslim ban.”
The Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR), acting for four US Muslims, filed a court case arguing the new set of rules violates a Supreme Court’s ruling that people with “bona fide” ties to the United States — relatives living in the United States, a letter of acceptance by a US university or a job with a US company — could enter the country. CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad called the new travel restrictions an “illegal, unconstitutional and un-American ban against Muslims.”
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a leading civil rights group, also said the new guidelines constituted an initiative directed against Muslims. “President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list,” Romero said in a statement.
But Noureldin said the fact that the new travel ban was mere window dressing did not mean winning a judicial challenge was certain. He cautioned that insisting that the Supreme Court look at the new travel ban at the October 5 hearing could have unforeseen consequences. The Supreme Court is ideologically split between liberals and conservatives, with a narrow, often 5-4 conservative majority, making predictions about possible decisions very difficult.
By avoiding blanket rulings, including non-Muslim countries and providing exceptions for individuals in its fresh guidelines, the administration has made it more difficult to prove that the new measure is just another Muslim ban, Noureldin said. This could lead to a Supreme Court ruling confirming Trump’s plan and strengthening the right of the executive to introduce wide-ranging travel restrictions by decree, handing an important victory to Trump.
“It’s more risky now,” Noureldin said. The critics of the new ban should think hard about what to say before the court on October 5, he added. “The Supreme Court could create a precedent that they don’t want.”