It has been less than 30 days since his inauguration, and President Trump has wasted no time implementing his policies, while simultaneously sparking outrage from many across the country. His latest move? An executive order targeting immigration. On February 27, President Trump signed an executive order that temporarily suspended all refugee settlement into the United States for four months, and refugee settlement from Syria, indefinitely. Further, the executive order suspended entry for three months for citizens of seven nations – Iran, Iraq, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Since his executive order was revealed, President Trump has defended it, by saying its implementation is necessary to protect American citizens from terrorist attacks. The President seems to be making good on his promise made back in December 2015 of “establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.”
“…using this power in a time of peace, when there is no evidence that every temporary visitor is a danger to the United States, is “’unprecedented.’”
So, why the outrage? After all, this is not the first time in our history a president has chosen to exercise his executive power to suspend entry into the United States for a list of specific countries. In fact, President Obama invoked his immigration authority 19 times, President George W. Bush invoked his six times, Bill Clinton used his executive power 12 times, George H.W. Bush used his once, and Ronald Reagan used his five times. It would appear then, that President Trump is well within his right to issue and implement this executive order.
According to some experts in the field of immigration, however, the main difference between this executive order and others that have targeted immigration, is the scope of the order. William Stock, president of the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association weighed in by saying “previous administrations used the authority in a ‘very targeted’ way, primarily to ban human rights violators, individuals subject to UN travel bans and U.S. sanctions, war criminals, and individuals who directly engaged in hostilities against the United States or its allies.” Stock went on to say that using this power in a time of peace—when there is no evidence that every temporary visitor is a danger to the United States—is “unprecedented.”
On the other hand, some believe that President Trump’s temporary ban is perfectly legal. David Yerushalmi, senior counsel at the American Freedom Law Center argued that President Trump was well within his authority to issue the order, and that it is reasonable, considering that the United States is currently facing a number of outside threats.
“There is no question that the ban is legal. I understand why lay-people take the position that its illegal, because they are responding emotionally or from a policy perspective, what they would like it to be, but it is not illegal.”
“…the overwhelming majority of individuals who will be affected by President Trump’s executive order, will be Muslims.”
While intelligent minds may differ on the scope of authority surrounding President Trump’s executive order, the fact of the matter is that this executive order raises Constitutional issues surrounding the guarantees of religious freedom and the Establishment Clause. It is no secret that the 7 countries targeted by this executive order are predominantly Muslim countries. Logically, it follows that the overwhelming majority of individuals who will be affected by President Trump’s executive order, will be Muslims.
The Establishment Clause is in the First Amendment to the Constitution and prohibits the government from establishing an “official religion.” Further, the Establishment Clause makes it illegal for the government to favor religion over non-religion, and vice versa. Those who argue that this executive order violates the Establishment Clause believe that President Trump truly wishes to ban Muslims from this country and has effectuated this wish under the guise of “extreme vetting” to protect American citizens. The executive order also directs the secretary of state “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” To some, this appears to single out minority faiths for special treatment.
Despite the legal arguments on both sides one thing is certain: those who are upset over Trumps actions are not being quiet about it. Numerous protests have materialized across the county in last week. Tens of thousands of outraged Americans flooded airports in New York, Boston and Washington, just two days after the executive order was put in place. One protestor carried a sign that read “never again means never again for everyone.” Above these words was a picture of Jewish refugees who had fled Germany during the Holocaust, only to be turned away by the Cuban government. More than 250 of those refugees were eventually killed by Nazis.
“It is devastating. These are people who don’t have anything to do with terrorism. They are victims of terror, that’s why they are leaving their country.”
In addition to protests, donations to organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Immigration Law Center have surged since the executive order was unveiled. The ACLU has raised more than $24 million in the last two weeks and its membership added 150,000 to 200,000 new members.
While emotions continue to run high, I think most would agree that many lawful immigrants either already in this country—or wishing to travel freely—are fearful and feel somewhat helpless, especially those who are from the 7 specified countries. These same feelings can readily be applied to both hopeful and current refugees.
Iranian biologist, Samira Asgari, had a lawful visa, but was turned away at an airport because of her country of origin. “I was very shocked that all my efforts, that all I’ve done, can be undone — just like that,” Asgari said.
Similarly, Chairman of the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, Abanur Saidi, sees the emotion stemming from the ban on a daily basis. “It is devastating. These are people who don’t have anything to do with terrorism. They are victims of terror, that’s why they are leaving their country.”
President Trump’s executive order is controversial to say the least; and while many individuals have strong opinions concerning the order, and other executive orders that are slowly being revealed, we should remember that the United States is a country of laws, and a country of humanity. Balancing these two fundamental ideals is proving to be a tough feat and one that will undoubtedly continue in the coming months.