President Donald Trump got his first reminder this weekend that the United States is a nation of laws that he cannot overrule with a stroke of his pen. His anti-immigration order is illegal, immoral and un-American.
On Friday, the new president signed an executive order temporarily barring from entry to the U.S. all refugees and all Syrians. It also severely restricts the entry of people from seven countries that are predominantly Muslim — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria — including green card holders from these countries. The ban leaves out other predominantly Muslim countries — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example — where actual terrorists have come from and where Trump, coincidentally, has business ties. Trump also said the ban would allow the U.S. to favor Christian refugees.
The order came despite the fact that no person from the seven countries on Trump’s list has killed an American in a terrorist attack, a review by the right-leaning Cato Institute confirms. Instead, many refugees are fleeing murderous regimes and ISIS. Others hit by the ban include scientists, students, tech company employees and a child seeking medical care.
By Saturday morning, U.S. officials were detaining people at airports, including an Iraqi who served as an interpreter for American troops during the Iraq war. A Christian Syrian family who had been approved for resettlement in the U.S. after 15 years was turned back after arriving at the Philadelphia airport.
Saturday evening, two federal courts, one in New York and one in Virginia, had stayed the order. By Sunday, federal courts in Massachusetts and Washington had also invalidated it. Those challenging the order “have a strong likelihood of success” in proving that the removal order “violates their right to due process and equal protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” Federal District Court Judge Ann Donnelly wrote in the New York case.
Despite these rulings, the Trump administration stands by the ban and customs officials at Dulles International Airport in Virginia appeared to be operating in clear defiance of the court order in that state, ensuring that the legal battle continues.
Given the chaos the order, the court rulings, and their defiance have created, Congress may have to step in to prevent a constitutional crisis. Democrats are working to gain support for legislation to overturn the order.
Sen. Susan Collins is among a small, but growing, group of Republicans in Congress who has spoken out against the order. “A preference should not be given to people who practice a particular religion, nor should a greater burden be imposed on people who practice a particular religion,” Collins said in a weekend statement regarding Trump’s comments about giving preference to Christian refugees while excluding Muslims.
“[R]eligious tests serve no useful purpose in the immigration process and run contrary to our American values,” Collins wrote.
Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree have condemned the ban. Second District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, reiterated his support for a ban on Syrian refugees until better terrorist screening is put in place. (Syrian refugees, who are fleeing a civil war that has displaced millions, already undergo a lengthy screening process by both the United Nations and the United States, and less than 1 percent are approved by resettlement.)
In a cruel irony of timing, Trump signed the order on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and is meant to remind the world of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, particularly its attempt to exterminate the Jewish people.
The Trump administration did not mention this genocide in a Remembrance Day statement it issued. The administration then doubled down and defended the omission. “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” administration spokeswoman Hope Hicks told CNN on Saturday. Downplaying the Nazis’ systematic effort to kill all Jews is how denial of the Holocaust atrocities begins, and allows those horrors to be repeated.
In 1939, the United States turned away the St. Louis, a ship carrying Jewish refugees fleeing Europe, out of fear that the passengers were spies. The ship eventually returned to Europe. Some passengers found safety in Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, but 254 of the ship’s passengers were killed in World War II. During this especially dark period in history, the U.S. also denied entry to Anne Frank and her family.
Historians and humanitarians see parallels with last week’s executive order and detentions.
The U.S. has derived its greatness from its openness, compassion, equality and promise of hope, even as it has often failed to live up to those values. When the U.S. collectively and intentionally turns its back on those values, it’s a sign of a nation entering an especially dark period in its history, which we must all resist.