Trump's Muslim Ban: A Promise Made And, Tragically, Kept

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Last Friday, he delivered his Muslim ban. 

The executive order is not a ban on entry by Muslims from all countries, but it is an immediately comprehensive ban on all Muslim immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – and the express terms of the order strongly suggest that the ban will extend to more countries.

The order also lifts the ban for persecuted people who are not Muslims, demonstrating that yes, it is a Muslim ban. And among its cruelest aspects is the suspension of all refugee resettlement into the United States for four months and from Syria indefinitely – closing this country as a place of refuge for the most threatened people in the world.

In the wake of Trump's Muslim ban, international airports have become flashpoints for religious liberty controversies

This ban on Muslims strikes at our core values and founding constitutional principles, including the First Amendment guarantees of free exercise of religion and the separation of church and state. Our federal government is prohibited from preferring some religions over others, but the executive order subjects members of one religion to the direst consequences.

This reprehensible policy has already had many of the terrible effects that Americans United and many of our partner organizations predicted when Trump first championed it. Muslims who served U.S. military and diplomatic efforts in their home countries, at great personal risk, have been turned away. At the same time, countries targeted by the ban such as Iraq have announced their intention to implement a reciprocal ban. This means that translators and other support personnel from the United States who are needed to support our military and diplomatic core in the Middle East, including in the fight against ISIS, may not be allowed in. 

Many of our Western allies have objected. And ISIS is pointing to the ban to confirm its propaganda that America is “waging a war on Islam” – the perfect recruiting tool. There are reports that more than a 1,000 State Department officials have recorded their dissent to the policy because it is more likely to increase the threat of terrorism than to stop it.  

This was an inevitable result of developing the executive order without input from the Senate-approved Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly or from the State Department and Department of Defense. These are the agencies whose diplomatic and military missions will be undermined by a blanket ban on travel on immigrants and visitors from seven countries based solely on their faith, rather than who they are.

Religious tests for immigration and travel were almost universally condemned when Trump announced the policy during the campaign. And a handful of elected officials from the president’s party has stuck by these fundamental principles now that the policy is actually in effect. But others have now swung fully behind the ban, or in the case of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opted for appeasing neutrality, saying, “The courts are going to determine whether this is too broad.” 

So they shall.

Attorneys from civil-rights and legal-aid organizations and private law firms made Marine-like landings in federal courts and airports to protect the rights of stranded detained Muslim travelers, winning some important early victories.  AU lawyer Bradley Girard has taken a leadership role in helping to coordinate litigation among the large group of lawyers who descended on Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia.  AU is standing up in this fight for religious freedom and equal protection of the law for all people – not just those whose religious beliefs the administration favors.

Regardless of the results of the immediate litigation over the Trump order, we should be under no illusion that this is the last intrusion on the rights of religious minorities. Among the most obvious constitutional violations was the application to green card holders, long time legal residents of the United States who happened to have the bad luck of traveling abroad as their rights were being erased. 

In response to the outcry, the administration appears to have backed away from this reading of the policy, but there is no doubt that the policy’s crafters intended that it apply. If the administration was prepared during its first week in office to exile Muslim-Americans with permanent legal status in the country, who knows what could come next? We need be vigilant against more policies targeting Muslims, this time at home. 

AU will be. Promise made.