New rules for Muslim ban fan concern over Islamophobia, refugees

Sunday 02/07/2017
Shutting-off Muslims. International travellers (reflected in a closed door) arrive on the day that US President Donald Trump’s limited travel ban goes into effect at Logan Airport in Boston, on June 29.

Washington - Rights advocates said new rules for US Presi­dent Donald Trump’s controversial plan to ban people from half a dozen Muslim countries from trav­elling to the United States reflect anti-Muslim sentiments that could fan Islamophobic tendencies and make life harder for refugees.

Following a US Supreme Court ruling to reinstate part of Trump’s travel ban after several lower court decisions kept the travel re­strictions from taking effect for months, the administration for­mulated new guidelines, which were immediately attacked by crit­ics.

A pledge to keep people from Muslim countries out of the United States was part of Trump’s popu­list message that swept him to vic­tory in last year’s election. Critics of the administration say Trump is demonising Muslims in general, while the president argues restric­tions are necessary to keep Amer­ica safe.

Omar Noureldin, vice-president of the Muslim Public Affairs Coun­cil (MPAC), an activist group, said the Supreme Court’s decision was likely to reinforce divisions be­tween Muslims and non-Muslims and a “climate of exclusion” in the United States.

“The Muslim ban is a saga and each new development leads to new divisions,” Noureldin said. “Refugees will be the ones that are most affected.”

The Supreme Court said it would look at the Muslim ban in detail in its next term, which begins in Oc­tober, although a decision may not come until next June.

The court provided criteria for travel applications from people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as well as for asy­lum bids by refugees until then. Under the Trump plan, published in March after a first version in January was struck down by the courts, citizens of the six countries would be barred from entering the United States for 90 days unless they already had a valid visa or residence permit. The acceptance of refugees from all over the world would be stopped for 120 days. This second Muslim ban was also cancelled by federal courts.

The Supreme Court said the Trump administration had the right to deny entry to people with­out “bona fide” ties to the United States but applicants with such a connection — 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, the court said.

Three days after the ruling, the administration defined in detail what “bona fide” ties are. Media reports said parents, children, a spouse, siblings or parents-in-law living in the United States could be counted as “bona fide” ties for an applicant. However, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, niec­es, nephews, cousins, a fiancé or brothers- and sisters-in-law could not.

Trump argued he needed the entry suspension to develop bet­ter vetting procedures to make sure no militants slip into the United States posing as visitors, students, workers or refugees. Rights groups, however, said that was just a pretext. The new set was “arbitrary and is not tied to any legitimate government purpose,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said on Twitter. “It remains clear that President Trump’s pur­pose is to disparage and condemn Muslims.”

Noureldin, a lawyer who for­merly worked for a federal judge in California, said the new regulation appeared to be in contradiction of a previous Supreme Court rul­ing that had defined ties between grandparents and grandchildren as a “close familial relationship.” It was hard to see a national security rationale behind the rules, he said: “To me, it seems petty.”

While visitors, students or work­ers may point to a “bona fide” rea­son to enter the United States, the situation is different for refugees, many of whom have no connec­tion to America. Even under the rules before the Muslim ban, many refugees had to wait for years be­fore being accepted by the United States while authorities checked their backgrounds.

Given that the world is going through the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war and that some countries have been hosting millions of refugees, the US restrictions came under se­vere criticism even before the Mus­lim ban and the Supreme Court decision. Rights activists said the ruling puts lives at risk.

“The court’s decision threatens damage to vulnerable people wait­ing to come to the US: People with urgent medical conditions blocked, innocent people left adrift, all of whom have been extensively vet­ted,” David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said in a statement.

The Trump administration slashed the number of refugees al­lowed into the United States until the end of the fiscal year in Sep­tember, from 110,000 people, a goal set under the Obama adminis­tration, to 50,000. Reports said the number of newly arrived refugees in the United States is sinking fast, with estimates indicating a total of 60,000 could be accepted by Sep­tember.

As the debate about the new Muslim ban began, it emerged that Trump had given US authori­ties more power to scrutinise visa applications. The news portal The Hill reported that Trump signed an executive order cancelling parts of an order by his predecessor Barack Obama that said most visa applicants should be interviewed within three weeks. As a result, waiting times for applicants could rise. “This is a very straightforward step that removes an arbitrary re­quirement and ensures the State Department has the needed dis­cretion to make real-world secu­rity determinations,” White House spokesman Michael Short told The Hill.