The revised version of President Trump’s executive order prohibiting travel to the United States by nationals from several Muslim-majority countries allows him to claim that he is fulfilling a campaign promise. That is, he is barring Muslims from entering the United States.
Those to whom the ban applies have not been chosen because travelers from those countries have shown a propensity to engage in deadly terrorism. There has been no case of terrorism in the United States involving travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen – the countries currently on the list.
Travelers to the United States from some other Muslim-majority countries have committed terrorist crimes that killed many Americans, including the 3,000 who died on September 11, 2001. And yet those countries are not on the list.
Even officials from the Department of Homeland Security have recognized that this list of countries cannot be justified on the grounds that they have been sources of terrorist attacks in the United States.
Then why were these six countries chosen over other more logical choices?
The President removed Iraq from the list because his advisors persuaded him that it is not a good idea to stigmatize Iraqis as terrorists at a time when Iraqi forces, with American assistance, are fighting to expel the Islamic State from Mosul. Iraqis detained by federal agents as they tried to enter the United States included those who had assisted US forces when they occupied the country after the 2003 invasion.
American law gives the president broad authority to exclude aliens who fall into categories that he decides are “detrimental to the interests of the United States”. However, his decisions must be carried out in a manner consistent with the US Constitution.
In this case, the President is putting his political interests ahead of concern for the safety of his fellow Americans.
He didn’t show that there exists a realistic threat of terrorism from travelers from these six countries. That makes it pure religious discrimination. It contradicts the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of religion by excluding travelers solely on the basis of their religion. It violates the first amendment’s Establishment Clause, by giving preference to certain religions. It disregards the constitutional requirement that all are entitled to the equal protection of the laws.
The first version of President Trump’s executive order gave preference to other religions by a provision favoring admission to the US for those who are victims of religious persecution. They would qualify only if they are not members of the majority religion in countries covered by the order - that is, so long as they are not Muslims.
President Trump had wanted to favor Christians. Dropping this provision from the revised executive order seems to be an effort to protect the order against invalidation by the courts.
I don’t know if the courts will strike down this version of the travel ban, but I’m sure no good will come of it. It will deepen antagonism towards the United States among many of the world’s one-and-a-half billion Muslims. Let alone what it will do to the reputation of the United States.
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