On January 27, 2017, one week after his inauguration, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” The executive order banned nationals from seven Muslim majority countries in the Middle East and the African continent from immigrating or traveling to the United States, citing national security as its primary justification. EO 13769 also suspended refugee admission for 120 days, prioritized refugee admission on the basis of religious persecution for religious minorities (effectively prioritizing Christian refugees over Muslim refugees), and suspended refugee admission in particular for Syrian nationals.
Audio montage of public and political reaction to President Donald J. Trump's Executive Order 13769. Source: CNN. Transcript linked here
The opening paragraphs of the executive order make it clear that this was a ban on Muslims. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were cited as the historical backdrop, and EO13796 stated that the U.S. “cannot, and should not” permit entry to "those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violence ideologies over American law." Such language of "violent ideologies" superseding the constitution has often been used by anti-Muslim groups to spread a conspiracy theory claiming Muslims seek to overthrow the United States and enforce Sharia.
In February 2020, the Trump Administration expanded the Muslim and African Ban with Presidential Proclamation 9983, nearly doubling the number of countries targeted for immigration restrictions and exclusions. The six countries added are Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania—all of which have either a Muslim majority or a significant Muslim population, four of which are African nations. When added to the list of already banned countries—Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela—the expansion brings the total number of currently banned countries to 13, nearly half of which are located on the African continent.
The Muslim and African Bans have always been discriminatory. The first Ban (before the end of 2017 there would be four iterations) delivered on Trump’s December 2015 campaign promise for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” It is important to note that in his speech, Trump cited a poll commissioned by the anti-Muslim organization Center for Security Policy. Bridge Initiative research has demonstrated that this poll was methodologically flawed resulting in inflammatory and dubious findings.
In addition to Trump’s long history of negative comments about Islam and Muslims, including “Islam hates us,” the President also has a track record of animus against refugees and non-white immigrants. During his 2016 presidential campaign and into his presidency, Trump has repeatedly referred to Syrian refugees as “snakes” and as “Trojan horses.” Additionally, he has regularly referred to immigrants, migrants, and asylum seekers from Latin America as “criminals,” “rapists,” “gang members,” and an “invasion.” In an Oval Office meeting on immigration in January 2018, Trump reportedly made pejorative and racist comments in which he described Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries as “shithole” countries, and asked why the U.S. could not increase immigration from countries such as Norway. Seven months prior, Trump also reportedly singled out Haitians and Nigerians, derogatorily claiming that Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS” and that Nigerian immigrants would never “go back to their huts” once they had come to the U.S. Nigeria was added to the Muslim and African Ban in February 2020, barring all visas for permanent immigration to the U.S. Moreover, such language linking Black immigrants to disease would foreshadow rhetoric that Trump would again employ in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
References to the Bans since January 2017 by President Trump on Twitter
References to the Bans after an attack by a Muslim since January 2017 by President Trump on Twitter
On June 26, 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Muslim and African Ban did not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, nor did it exceed the president’s authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to "impose on the entry of" or "suspend the entry of" a "class" of people. In so doing, the Supreme Court deferred to the executive branch under the plenary power doctrine, the long-standing legal authority that originated in U.S. settler colonialism and genocide against Native Americans.
While the Muslim and African Ban had been in full effect since a Supreme Court ruling on December 4, 2017—when the Supreme Court temporarily granted the government’s request for the Ban to go into full effect, amidst ongoing legal challenges—the Supreme Court’s official decision in June 2018 rendered the Ban “legal” and indefinite. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor condemned the ban as being “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”
In what came to be one of the deciding factors for the Justices, the third iteration of the Ban (Presidential Proclamation 9645) formalized a process whereby applicants who were denied visas—or whose visas had been revoked—could apply for a waiver to travel or immigrate to the U.S
By blindly accepting the government’s misguided invitation to sanction a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity toward a disfavored group, all in the name of a superficial claim of national security, the court redeploys the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu and merely replaces one grave wrong decision with another.
Since the June 2018 Supreme Court decision, there have been numerous legal challenges to the Muslim and African Bans. In the courts, there are at least half a dozen ongoing, active cases against the Ban. This includes International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump; Pars Equality Center, et al. v. Pompeo, et al.; Jewish Family Service of Seattle, et al. v. Trump; P.K. v. Tillerson, Emami v. Nielsen, and Iranian Alliances Across Borders (“IAAB”) v. Trump.
In the U.S. Congress, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), and others introduced the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act (H.R.2214 and S.1123), otherwise known as the NO BAN Act, in April 2019. The NO BAN Act is legislation that seeks to “impose[ ] limitations on the President's authority to suspend or restrict aliens from entering the United States and terminates certain presidential actions implementing such restrictions.” Moreover, the bill “prohibits religious discrimination in various immigration-related decisions, such as whether to issue an immigrant or non-immigrant visa, unless there is a statutory basis for such discrimination.” The bill also allows for the President to “temporarily restrict” entry to the U.S. for what may be deemed threats to U.S. security or public safety. In September 2019, the House Committee on the Judiciary hosted an oversight hearing on the Ban. The hearing included testimony from two individuals directly impacted by the Ban, as well as a representative of an anti-immigration, white nationalist think tank.
Despite these legal efforts, the arrival of the global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the precarious legal situation faced by individuals and their families impacted by the Ban. In mid-March 2020, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the NO BAN Act. According to the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the NO BAN Act would “immediately repeal prior versions of President Trump’s Muslim ban, including the most recent expanded ban that most heavily impacts Africans, one that specifically targets refugees, and one that targets asylum-seekers arriving at the border.” On March 12, 2020, following pressure from both the Trump Administration and Republican lawmakers, in which the Muslim and African Ban was linked to public safety and COVID-19, the vote was delayed.
In the days preceding the delay on the NO BAN Act vote, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) stated, “The president ought to be able to keep potential terrorists from coming into our country, but now with this outbreak of coronavirus, the president also needs to have all the tools available to limit, people coming in from countries with a high propensity of coronavirus.” In a statement released March 10, the Trump administration linked COVID-19 to immigration restrictions on Muslims and Africans. The statement claimed that the NO BAN Act would cause “dangerous delays that threaten the safety, security, and health of the American people,” and that “the President’s authority to restrict travel into the United States has been central to the Administration’s ongoing efforts to safeguard the American people against the spread of COVID-19.”
Iranian nationals have particularly been singled out by the Administration. On March 23, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of spreading COVID-19 while referring to the virus with inflammatory, anti-Asian dog-whistles, stating, “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice.” Prior to Pompeo’s racist language, on February 29, 2020, President Trump updated Presidential Proclamation 9984 to add Iran for COVID-19 related travel restrictions: “The potential for undetected transmission of the virus by infected individuals seeking to enter the United States from Iran threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security.” The proclamation justified this decision by declaring, “Iran is not a trustworthy state actor, as it has repeatedly demonstrated through its history of engaging in malign activity.”
A report released in June 2020 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that there were 26 million refugees worldwide by the end of 2019. According to the report's findings, 68% of all refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad came from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar—nearly all of which have been targeted by the legal infrastructure of the Muslim and African Bans. In addition to nationals from Syria and Myanmar and a select group of Venezuelan officials targeted under the current Ban, refugees from South Sudan were targeted in October 2017 under the mandate of EO13815 for an additional “threat assessment.”
Since the June 2018 Supreme Court decision, what has been the human impact of the Muslim and African Bans? How has the ban impacted individual applicants? How has it impacted their families, careers, schooling, and mental health? How many applicants who are eligible according to PP 9645 and now PP 9983 guidance have been issued waivers to enter the U.S.?
From refugee admissions to fiancée and student visas, the Muslim and African Bans continue to have a devastating impact on banned individuals and on their families—many of whom are U.S. citizens and green card holders. Due to their indefinite separation, some parents have never met their children. Some have postponed their weddings, some are prevented from starting a family, and some have died waiting.
While the number of people impacted continues to grow, especially with the February 2020 expansion of the Ban, the data analyzed was collected through June 2018 only.
Of all refugees resettled in the U.S between Fiscal Years 2016 and 2018, the State Department reports a decrease of Muslims resettled by:
Despite the June 2018 Supreme Court decision that determined that the Muslim and African Ban did not violate the U.S. Constitution and did not exceed presidential power under the Immigration and Nationality Act—due largely to the waiver process—the numbers indicate that the waiver process isn’t much of a process at all. Former consular official Christopher Richardson stated in a sworn affidavit that “there really is no waiver [process].” Another consular official stated that the “waiver process is a fraud.” Moreover, there is no clear guidance provided by the White House, State Department, or the Department of Homeland Security detailing how, when, and by whom the visa waivers are adjudicated.
The Bridge Initiative Database: Impact of the Waivers
As previously reported, from December 2017 to March 2019, data released by the State Department indicate that only 5.1% of all applicants for a visa waiver have been issued a visa. More recently updated data from the State Department, from December 2017 to April 2020, indicate that of all applicants subject to PP 9645 and PP 9983, 26% of applicants were issued a visa pursuant to a waiver. While issuance of waivers for a visa have increased from March 2019 to April 2020, 74% or nearly three in four applicants have been denied a waiver for a visa in this time period. As stated by Senator Chris Van Hollen in a June 2019 press release, the Muslim and African Ban “was bad on day one and is only getting worse.” Moreover, he continued, “this data makes it abundantly clear that the waiver process is a sham and that the ban has nothing to do with national security.”
The database the Bridge Initiative has compiled is merely a snapshot of this stark reality, yet it attempts to demonstrate the deep human costs of the Muslim and African Ban. For instance, how many babies have been born while their parents remain separated? How many applicants or their loved ones have put their education on hold, or whose jobs or careers are threatened as a result of the Muslim and African Ban? How many applicants and their loved ones have reported that they are experiencing anxiety, depression, or emotional distress as a result of the Muslim and African Ban?
With these questions in mind, the Bridge Initiative in June 2019 published aggregated data on immigration and non-immigration visa applicants and their impacted families who have been subjected to the restrictions of the previous iteration of the Muslim and African Ban (PP 9645). While six additional countries have since been added to the Ban (PP 9983), not enough information is yet publicly available to similarly aggregate such data. The previously published data was compiled from online news media, lawsuits, and the in-it #StopTheBan video platform. Through an analysis of this data, which is comprised of 549 entries, we identified the following:
Out of 549 entries within the database:
or over 1 in 10 were siblings who were separated from each other
or 1 in 4 were children who were separated from parents
or 1 in 3 were partners who were separated from each other
As a result of these examples of family separation, at least 16 babies have been born while loved ones (parents, grandparents, siblings) await adjudication on a visa or waiver; 24 individuals have delayed starting a family and having children of their own; 13 individuals missed or may miss a loved one’s funeral or the chance to say goodbye to a loved one; and 13 individuals have either been forced to cancel, postpone, or miss a wedding. In addition, the separation of families has had a toll on the mental health of those impacted:
or 1 in 10 of all cases of individuals who explicitly reported experiencing anxiety, depression, and/or emotional distress as a result of the Muslim Ban
Despite the claims of the Administration, the waiver process is neither transparent nor timely. Out of 248 applicants for visa or waivers in the database, 82 applicants are currently experiencing at least two years of wait time since their initial visa application and/or their initial visa interview. That is:
or approximately 1 in 3 applicants are experiencing at least 2 years of wait time
The unpredictable and protracted wait time of the waiver process exacerbates the hardships that many of the applicants and their families are currently experiencing. Thirty-seven (37) individuals are facing dangerous safety conditions and/or threats as a result of the precarity in which the Muslim Ban suspends them. This represents 6.7% of all individuals listed in the database. Of these 37 cases, 27 are living in or are at risk of being returned to a conflict area. This includes eight children under the age of 18. These 27 cases represent 3 in 4 of the applicants experiencing precarious safety conditions as a result of the Muslim Ban.
It bears repeating, as some have pointed out, that the U.S. has intervened, militarily or otherwise, in the Muslim-majority countries listed in the previous iterations of the Muslim and African Bans, whether currently and/or in the very recent past. Moreover, the countries added to the Ban in February 2020 have also been impacted by U.S. intervention through the ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT). This includes military bases and installations, Department of Defense regional “combatant commands” such as United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), and the targeting of minority Muslim and ethnic communities for state violence and genocide under a ‘War on Terror’ blueprint. All of this calls into question the role of the U.S. in directly creating, or facilitating the conditions that have led to violence and destabilization in many of the countries impacted by the Bans. It also calls into question the decision of the Trump Administration to ban them from entering the U.S.
Additional analysis from the dataset, as well as in-depth analysis of the impact of the Muslim Bans by country can be accessed at the resources below: