The second iteration of President Trump’s Muslim – sorry, I mean travel – ban has been blocked again. Just hours before the revised Executive Order was due to come into effect, Derrick Watson, a federal judge from Hawaii, ruled that the ban would violated First Amendment protections against religious discrimination. In his ruling, he wrote that a “reasonable, objective observer” would assume that the ban “was issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion”. Given that one of Trump’s headline campaign promises was to ban Muslims from entering the country, it is difficult to argue that the intention of the Executive Order was anything other than exactly that.
Trump has reacted in a predictable way: defending the Order, slamming judges, and raving about “radical Islamic terrorists”. He responded last night at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee. (Quite why the president feels the need to continue to hold rallies as if he were still on the campaign trail is a topic of another article.) Trump also promised to take his appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, injecting added pressure into the fight to confirm Neil Gorsuch, his pick to replace Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia.
The most interesting thing about this is not that the ban has been struck down, nor that Trump has vowed to fight it. It was his comments – seemingly unscripted – at the Nashville rally about the difference between the two versions. Trump called the revised ban a “watered-down version of the first Order”, then announced “I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way”.
As a reminder, the first Executive Order was wildly regarded as shambolic, botched, and legally patchy. Key government departments were kept in the dark about it, the wording was unclear and inconsistent, and no precautions were taken to mitigate the logistical and legal chaos it caused. The new version at least gave a week’s warning and allowed relevant institutions time to prepare.
But the shoddy organisation of the first travel ban paled in comparison to the breathtaking horror of banning permanent residents (green card holders) from returning to the US. Green card holders have often lived and worked in America for years before gaining permanent residency status, or are the children or spouses of US citizens. The screening process is long, expensive, and intense, but once permanent residency has been granted, they enjoy rights that are in many cases on par with that of full citizens. You must have a green card and live in the US for a minimum of five years before you can apply for citizenship, meaning a high proportion of this group are in the midst of the legal immigration process. Discrimination against green card holders was the key reason the first Order got struck down, and at the time there were conflicting reports from the White House about whether permanent residents were meant to have been affected at all.
On Wednesday night, Trump confirmed that they were. His White House is not just zeroing in on illegal immigrants (although they are certainly doing that too, with mass deportations and the infamous border wall) – legal immigrants are also a target.
Don’t be surprised by this. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has long been a critic of all kinds of immigration, illegal or otherwise. There’s a recording from March 2016 of Bannon talking to current White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, with both men condemning legal immigration in no uncertain terms. Bannon calls it “scary” and the “beating heart of this problem”, while Miller demands an “immigration-off period”. Bannon has also railed against work visas for highly skilled immigrants and suggested that Silicon Valley should stop hiring people who were not born in America. Remember, this is not about stopping undocumented Mexicans from crossing the southern border. It’s about closing America’s doors to much-needed scientists, engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs – not to mention the spouses and children of US citizens.
At his Nashville rally, President Trump declared he wanted to “go all the way”. In other words, he prefers the version of the travel ban that discriminates against these kinds of legal immigrants – people who have jumped through every expensive and bureaucratic hoop in order to certify their rights to live and work in the US. Now the president wants to take those rights away.
Thank goodness for Judge Watson from Hawaii.