Trump’s ‘Unconstitutional’ Immigration Ban Defies Moral, Legal Norms

President said executive order is not a Muslim ban but suggested Christians will be given priority over other refugees. Federal lawsuit says the order “is based on bigotry, not reality.”
Moses Frenck

The White House has ignored democratic norms in the implementation of its Muslim-focused immigration ban, including ignoring federal court orders and instructing federal agencies, such as U.S. Customs, not to speak with members of Congress.

Attorneys general from 15 states and the District of Columbia on Sunday condemned the executive order hastily signed by President Donald Trump late Friday, calling it “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful.”

Muslim ban“As the chief legal officers for over 130 million Americans and foreign residents of our states, we … will work together to ensure the federal government obeys the Constitution, respects our history as a nation of immigrants, and does not unlawfully target anyone because of their national origin or faith,” the 16 attorneys general said. “Religious liberty has been, and always will be, a bedrock principle of our country and no president can change that truth.”

The joint statement was signed by the attorneys representing California, Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

“I will not allow voiceless refugees, and all those targeted by this reckless action, to be victimized by an unlawful, unconstitutional, and fundamentally un-American decree from the President,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Saturday, adding that he had directed attorneys in his office to provide legal assistance to “those who have been victimized by President Trump’s discriminatory and dangerous executive action … a new low in modern American foreign policy.”

The executive order bans all citizens of seven Muslim nations with majority-Muslim populations from entering the United States for 90 days and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from entering the country.

“Let me be clear: President Trump’s executive action is unconstitutional and in clear violation of federal law, including both the Establishment Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,” Schneiderman said on Sunday. “I will do everything within my power to help lead the fight to permanently strike it down.”

Federal judges in Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington issued partial stays to the executive order late Saturday and early Sunday, prohibiting the deportation of travelers.

However, there were many reports of officials ignoring the court rulings and proceeding with deportations. Schneiderman said that his office received “alarming reports that DHS and CBP are not complying with the federal court order and, instead, are planning to remove from the U.S. individuals specifically protected by the order.”

On Sunday Schneiderman sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection demanding the agencies describe specific steps they were taking to ensure compliance with a federal court injunction and restraining order.

According to published reports, the Department of Homeland Security initially ruled that permanent legal U.S. residents would not be subject to the executive order but was overruled by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon — the former Breitbart head whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as “the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill” — and White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, who has been described as an ardent foe of immigrants since his high school days.

On Sunday, #StopPresidentBannon was trending on Twitter.

By late Sunday, more than a dozen Republican members of Congress had begun speaking out against the executive order, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying the United States should not implement a religious test.

“The president has a lot of latitude to try to secure the country, and I’m not going to make a blanket criticism of this effort,” McConnell said on ABC over the weekend. “However, it’s important to remember that a lot of Muslims are our best sources in the war against terror.”

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said the order must be reviewed.

“We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders,” he said in a statement. “The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated.”

Corker was at one point under consideration to be Trump’s running mate and was also considered for secretary of state.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, also a Republican from Tennessee, in a statement said that while the order is “not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character.”

House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said, “in light of the confusion and uncertainty created in the wake of the President’s Executive Order, it is clear adjustments are needed.”

For his part, Trump on Sunday said the order is not a Muslim ban. “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” he wrote. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

However, during the campaign, Trump repeatedly called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

In an interview with Fox News on Saturday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Trump asked him how to do a “Muslim ban” legally. “When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban,'” Giuliani said. “He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.'”

Meanwhile, in an interview Friday with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said persecuted Christians will be given priority over other refugees seeking to enter the United States.

The Council on American Islamic Relations said it will file a federal lawsuit Monday to “challenge the constitutionality of the order because its apparent purpose and underlying motive is to ban people of the Islamic faith from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.”

“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” said CAIR National Litigation Director Lena Masri. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”

Co-counsel Gadeir Abbas added, “The courts must do what President Trump will not — ensure that our government refrains from segregating people based on their faith.”

(Originally published in DiversityInc Jan. 30, 2017.)