Unpacking Trump’s Travel Ban

On the 27th of January, 2017, merely weeks into his term as the forty-fifth President of the United States, Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order 13769. If it wasn’t for the weight and impact of this order, this series of numbers could have slipped by unnoticed; after all, one would think orders and motions are signed and implemented regularly in the oval office. The Office of the Press Secretary defines this order as a preventative action “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry”, but after stripping it down to its most basic principles, it has become internationally recognized as President Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

Since it came to fruition, the travel ban has been a topic of discussion around the world. Right-winged proponents in favour of this definitive action view it as a necessary measure while many others, belonging to both the left and right, find it quite simply deplorable. In a nut shell, the travel ban has ceased passage in and out of the United States for those traveling to and from a specific list of seven countries. While on the surface it may not seem so insidious, the list consists solely of countries containing a predominantly Muslim population – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Initial public reaction to this imposed ban on, for the most part, Muslim travelers was anything short of silent. According to a post by The New York Times, the announcement sparked upwards of 40 protests across the United States, by citizens expressing their solidarity with the affected refugees and travelers. In a reaction to the public’s outcry against the imposed ban, President Trump released a statement saying, “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe…We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”

After much debate and contestation, in hardly a weeks time, the travel ban faced legal action on the basis of human rights violations and its unconstitutionality. After a visit to the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court in the case of the State of Washington v. Trump, the ban was stopped from being put in place, mandating the Trump administration conduct a rewrite if they wish to seek approval.

Like many stories in the news these days, there is a chance that the sheer weight of this event cannot be grasped by the average reader, perusing through the newspaper one morning, or on their commute to work. The number of immigrants and non-immigrants, as well as refugees traveling between the United States and these seven countries each year is astounding. According to the 2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics published by the Department of Homeland Security, that year saw over 165 thousand travelers from those nations alone. Averaging that out by month and applying it to President Trump’s initial 90-day timeline, the movement of over 40 thousand travelers would have been suspended had this taken place in 2015.

Those aren’t 40 thousand people being simply inconvenienced by not being able to travel to the United States out of leisure or vacation; these are people whose lives can depend on whether or not they make it out of their country. In these situations time can be one of the most defining factors; the process of immigrating is long and arduous in its smoothest form, which is one not many people experience. Immigrants and refugees face some of the biggest risks when relocating, and road blocks such as travel bans only make their already difficult journeys harder.

While the ban is believed to be keeping threats at bay, it is also keeping those in need of essential services from getting them. In such cases as four-month-old Fatemeh Reshad, an Iranian girl suffering from a rare heart condition, the travel ban temporarily suspended her journey to Portland, Oregon for a life-saving surgery. According to an article by the Toronto Star, due to a quick response by immigration services and the medical staff, the family’s travel suspension was waived the day of the appeal and as of this week Reshad is recovering well.

Similarly, just north of the United States countries like Canada are taking action in favour of opening their doors to more refugees in need, specifically those belonging to minorities at risk. With a commitment to relocate almost 1,200 refugees, groups such as the Yazidis can find a way to safely make it out of Iraq. They are not the threat, they are the ones falling victim on a daily basis to the forces the ban is supposedly in place to prevent.

As stated earlier, if you unpack the jargon and political language seasoned throughout Executive Order 13769, the ban is in place to prevent those likely of committing terrorist acts from entering the United States. However, general opinion questions the intensity of the ban considering actual statistics surrounding attacks that have taken place on American soil. A 2015 study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism found that 2,961 deaths occurred in the United States due to terrorist attacks from 9/11/2001 to 12/31/2014. Of that 2,902 occurred during the September 11th attack. To put that in perspective, the statistical analytics website FiveThirtyEight averaged an annual 33,599 gun deaths each year from 2012-2014 in the United States; the right to bear arms still remains a contentious issue.

As of this week the revised ban has made its way to the public, with a few revisions but a similar essence. According to Politico, the new Executive Order has had its intensity dialed back. Pending its release, White House officials have confirmed several elements: first, Iraq has been removed from the list of banned countries, second, those living in the States under a U.S. Visa or green card are no longer effected and third, refugee refusal is no longer limited to those from Syria but rather all countries on the list.

While some of the changes to the ban can be viewed as positive, the consensus is there is still a lot inherently wrong with it. Iraq may have been removed, but there are still six other countries on that list, solely there because of their Muslim saturation. In addition, the alteration to the Syrian refugee regulation does elicit mixed emotions: the singling out of Syria was wrong in the first place, but adding every other country to that refugee rule doesn’t make it better. With the revised Executive Order making it’s way into circulation, what we do know is that the coming weeks will illustrate what the public opinion is, and more importantly what the next step shall be.

Wyatt Lang