Just hours before the latest iteration of the Trump administration’s travel ban was due to be implemented, Judge Derrick Watson of the Hawaiian District Court emphatically blocked it. The latest Executive Order attempted to prevent citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, as well as citizens of North Korea and certain government officials from Venezuela. The block is the result of a legal action brought by the State of Hawaii that sought a nationwide Temporary Restraining Order against portions of the Executive Order. The action sought to prevent (and did so successfully) the implementation of the ban with respect to Muslim-majority countries only (Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, and Yemen); the ban on North Korean and Venezuelan citizens remains active.
Decried widely as the latest instalment of Mr. Trump’s persistent mission to block travel from Muslim-majority nations, the travel ban was described by Judge Watson as suffering from “precisely the same maladies as its predecessor.” He continued to state that the ban clearly “discriminates based on nationality” and that it “plainly violates” multiple provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The Trump administration’s response to the ruling was damning and swift, condemning Judge Watson’s findings as “dangerously flawed.” The administration insisted that the travel ban is “vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the … security of our nation.”
Yet, as stated in Judge Watson’s ruling, “[n]ational security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’” and the Trump administration’s repeated utterances regarding national security do little to disguise the absence of logic in their line of reasoning. The Cato Institute, an American public policy thinktank, released a report earlier this year which found that citizens of Muslim-majority nations listed in the travel bans have killed a grand total of zero people in terrorism-related offences in the United States between 1975 and 2015 (a fact not changed by the inclusion of recently added countries). In addition, a leaked report from the Department of Homeland Security stated that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” So why persist with such an untenable policy?
The most generous response to this question is that Mr. Trump is simply attempting to stay true to his campaign promise of a “total and complete shutdown” on all Muslims entering the United States, upon which he was elected. Less generously, the Trump administration’s multiple travel bans could be described as thinly veiled attempts to institutionalize racism, and display a disturbing lack of common sense and human decency. A narrative of racism has dogged the Trump administration from its inception, and issuing Executive Orders riddled with logical inconsistencies that target Muslim-majority nations does little to improve this image.
The drama surrounding the latest travel ban lies in the broader context of a legal quagmire that has been a key concern of the Trump administration since February this year, consisting of three separate Executive Orders and consequent legal resistance. Notably, the second travel ban was partially upheld by the Supreme Court in June. Although substantively similar, a key distinction between the latest travel ban and its predecessors is the duration of its enforcement period; the first two travel bans were temporary whereas the latest version is permanent.
It is highly likely that the Trump administration’s latest attempt to restrict travel will ultimately reach the Supreme Court on appeal, the judgment of which will have significant implications for the U.S. and the rest of the world. Will the Trump administration’s illogical and harmful campaign be allowed to continue? Or will the principles of liberty so often described as the foundation of the United States be preserved? The fates of many lie in the hands of the U.S. court system; we can only hope that the eventual conclusion is driven by principles of inclusion, not division.
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