President Trump recently issued an executive order temporarily banning travel and refugee admissions for 120 days from seven Muslim-majority countries- Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen, and a ban of all Syrian refugees indefinitely. This issue immediately sparked protests and questions of legality. People flying into the country with valid documentation were detained in airports. Before the White House reversed the ban on green-card holders from those seven countries, many of them, mostly permanent residents of the U.S. who were traveling overseas for work or vacation, were reviewed case-by-case and subjected to further screening for reentry. This also applied to people who held dual citizenship with another country. For example, persons holding a Canadian and Syrian citizenship were barred from entering the country.
At one point in Trump’s 2016 election campaign, he called for a complete and total ban on Muslims coming into the country. Even though his executive order does not call for such an extreme approach, President Trump has intended to take strong measures related to this issue. The executive order was created with minimal legal review and input from the departments that were involved in carrying it out, especially Homeland Security. Stephen K. Bannon, the chief White House strategist, a forceful and radical presence in the White House, had overseen the creation of this executive order.
Forty percent of refugees that come to the United States are from these seven nations. There have been reports of refugees being stranded in third world countries, even though they have gone through a multi-year approval process for entry into the United States, and panicked U.S. tech companies recalling their workers for a possible impact, Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. military denied entry, and Iranian students barred from the U.S., sparking protests in American airports. Looking at Trump’s executive order carefully, it technically is not a Muslim ban. Nations with the highest source of Muslim immigrants such as Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are not affected. It is also important to note that the executive order does not include any countries from which radicalized Muslims have actually killed Americans since 9/11. Is it legal? We don’t know. The question of whether the president has the power to suspend immigration is unknown territory. Even though Congress has stated before that nationality cannot be used as a means to decide who gets into the country, U.S. law does give the president the power to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants” if he deems them “detrimental to the interests of the country.” Therefore, the question of whether religion can take a part in this determination is also unknown. This is a matter the courts have to decide on as we head into unprecedented territory.