The Supreme Court decision upholding the Donald Trump Administration’s infamous “Muslim ban” will have consequences far beyond its restriction on visas for nationals from the affected countries.
Of the greatest concern is the validation it has given to the president’s virulent anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric. It was Trump’s inflammatory language against Muslims that caused lower courts to strike down his first iteration of the ban. While the Administration claimed to hold no anti-Muslim animus, the courts noted that during his campaign for the White House, Trump had said “I think Islam hates us ... we can’t allow people coming into this country who have hatred of the United States.” And that he had called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.
In an effort to deflect criticism and save face, the US administration attempted a second and third version of the ban, adding Venezuela and North Korea to the list of banned countries and repackaging the effort as a national security “travel ban”. It was this third version that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In upholding Trump’s ban, the court recognised the president’s absolute right to “suspend entry of aliens into the United States”, regardless of whether or not his intention was to discriminate against Muslims. It is frightening to think of the consequences of handing such power to any president — especially this one.
The decision will also have a direct and hurtful impact on hundreds of thousands of recent immigrant Syrian, Yemeni, and Somali Americans in addition to others from the affected countries. They will no longer be able to have their families visit them. And if they are still Green Card holders, they will now be at risk of being denied re-entry if they leave the US to visit their families abroad.
The ban and the decision to uphold it also make a mockery of national security concerns. While Trump has repeatedly claimed that this measure was designed to keep “dangerous people out of our country” there is no evidence that immigrants from the targeted countries have engaged in terrorist acts here in the US. And, as for the president’s oft-expressed concern of the dangers posed by refugees from these countries, saying that “we don’t know who these people are”, this ignores the rigorous 12-stage security vetting process already in place to screen them. In fact, we know more about refugees than we do about any other group of immigrants coming to the US.
Finally, this Supreme Court decision coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s horrific behaviour in separating refugee and asylum-seeking families and putting them in long-term detention camps without recourse to judicial review will only serve to embolden the White House to commit new outrages in the name of national security. Whether this is a “Muslim ban” or a “travel ban” is, at one level, irrelevant. What it is, in either case, is a cruel and arbitrary act motivated by bigotry.
Trump fuelled his campaign with hostility towards selected groups of foreigners — Muslims, Mexicans, and other “people of colour”. They were, he has said, an “infestation” that was threatening American culture and our society. His behaviour since taking office and the individuals he has appointed to senior posts in his administration have only served to amplify this inflammatory stance.
The Supreme Court has now validated his behaviour and from the supportive comments of some of his key supporters we can only expect more, not less, of this dangerous appeal to xenophobia. We can expect his base to be empowered, hate to increase, and targeted communities to live in fear and dread.
This may be what the president wants, but it’s not the country we want to leave to future generations.
A final thought: It is clear that Trump’s rhetoric and actions are political in intent. He is firing up his supporters in the hopes that they will ensure continued Republican control of Congress. A GOP victory, he feels, will protect him from accountability and possible impeachment.
This is reason enough to consider that the 2018 midterms may be the most important election in the recent history of America. They present a challenge for both parties. Republicans who initially rejected Trump decided to swallow their pride and tagged along for the ride. They got what they wanted: Tax cuts and deregulation, a conservative Supreme Court Justice, and the gutting of Obamacare.
Democrats, too, must face down this challenge. They can no longer play “business as usual”, fielding comfortable candidates who hold on to the power and privilege of high office and once there do little or nothing to challenge the status quo.
This moment in American history and this election is too important. At stake is democracy.
Dr James J. Zogby is the president of Arab American Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan national leadership organisation.