Can the US President Break the Law?

Can the US president break the law? It’s a question a lot of people have been asking lately. President Trump signed a two-fold executive order on Friday, January 27th, banning travelers from seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations for 90 days as well as suspending the admission of refugees for another 120 days. This created a chaotic situation over the weekend, leaving dozens of people stranded in airports across the country or, if they were already in the air, sent back to their last point of departure.

But is it legal? The president is guaranteed a certain amount of power to suspend the flow of immigrants and refugees from the Immigration and Nationality Act, but this executive order would run afoul of the section that forbids giving priority to “the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence” . Two detained Iraqis have already filed a lawsuit against the United States government and there were dozens of lawyers flowing into the airports, working for free to speed up the detainees’ entrances into the country. This will be followed by action from the ACLU and legislation by Congressional Democrats to overturn the travel ban.

Trump’s motive for the ban is no mystery. He campaigned on the promise of banning Muslims from the United States. In spite of an official statement from Trump saying the travel restrictions didn’t constitute a Muslim ban, Rudy Giuliani confirmed, in a Fox News interview, that Trump had come to him for advice on a “Muslim ban” and “the right way to do it legally”. Another lie from the Trump White House, but who’s counting?

Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia make up the seven countries in the ban, with promises from Trump on the possibility of expanding the ban. Detractors were quick to point out that these countries, while far from stable and safe, were not countries that had sent attackers to the United States. As with the second Iraq War, the question on everyone’s mind was “why there?”. Limited travel restrictions on the seven countries had already been signed into law by Barack Obama in December 2015. This order specifically targeted anyone who visited the seven countries in question after March 1st, 2011, forcing them to reapply for a visa.

Other detractors pointed out that the list does not include countries where Trump has active business interests, a claim denied by the Trump White House. The Trump administration reiterated that they chose the countries on the list because of their potential for terror, a claim that struck ethics watchdog groups as hollow. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are all countries that Trump and his businesses have a stake in, including the impending development of two golf courses in Dubai. With Trump remaining, at least tangentially, involved with his business ventures, his opponents are waiting to see if the travel ban really does expand in the days to come.

The other big concern is that the travel ban puts an unlawful restriction on the right of detainees to have a hearing before being shipped back out to where they came from. It also infringes on existing American and international laws that allow a refugee or traveler to remain on American soil if deporting them could cause them to face death or worse in their place of origin. As if all of that isn’t enough, it will not bode well for the Trump administration in court if they can be found to be giving preferential treatment to Christian refugees, something Trump and his team have said outright.

It also begs the question as to exactly how the ban will be effective in the way it’s intended to be, meaning, if a person can simply lie about their religious affiliation. It’s reasonable to assume that if a terrorist is willing to commit mass murder in another country and die for their cause, fibbing to the TSA is inconsequential.

Another compelling argument against the ban is that it plays directly into the narratives of Islamic extremist networks who assert that the Western world is hostile to Islam. By deepening the chasm between the Muslim world and the West, the Trump administration runs the risk of adding to the cultural isolation that becomes fertile ground for radicalization. It is a sad reality that the deeper Western meddling goes in the Middle East, the less stable the region becomes.

Terrorists exploit instability and chaos, the exact things the ban is, on paper, supposed to prevent. With the Trump administration openly encouraging homeland security agents to interrogate detainees and inspect their social media for their political and religious opinions, whether they are green card holders or not*, the stance of the new administration is being broadcast loud and clear.

It doesn’t look good for Muslims and it doesn’t look good for America. When I read the reports of award nominees being kept from attending the Oscars, families being torn apart indefinitely, and all the people being kept in legal limbo, I feel a deep sense of shame, and with the increasing opposition now including prominent Republicans and Christian leaders, I am not alone. This order is a poignant reminder of the times in our country’s history where we allowed xenophobia to hijack our public policy. That the order was signed into action on Holocaust Remembrance Day is a grim bit of irony, the kind that’s beginning to write itself these days.


Featured image credit via The Boston Globe.

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