New rules for Muslim ban fan concern over Islamophobia, refugees
'The Muslim ban is a saga and each new development leads to new divisions.' Omar Noureldin, vice-president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
Shutting-off Muslims. International travellers (reflected in a closed door) arrive on the day that US President Donald Trump’s limited travel ban goes into effect at Logan Airport in Boston, on June 29. (Reuters)
2017/07/02 Issue: 113 Page: 16
The Arab Weekly
Washington - Rights advocates said new rules for US President Donald Trump’s controversial plan to ban people from half a dozen Muslim countries from travelling to the United States reflect anti-Muslim sentiments that could fan Islamophobic tendencies and make life harder for refugees.
Following a US Supreme Court ruling to reinstate part of Trump’s travel ban after several lower court decisions kept the travel restrictions from taking effect for months, the administration formulated new guidelines, which were immediately attacked by critics.
A pledge to keep people from Muslim countries out of the United States was part of Trump’s populist message that swept him to victory in last year’s election. Critics of the administration say Trump is demonising Muslims in general, while the president argues restrictions are necessary to keep America safe.
Omar Noureldin, vice-president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), an activist group, said the Supreme Court’s decision was likely to reinforce divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims and a “climate of exclusion” in the United States.
“The Muslim ban is a saga and each new development leads to new divisions,” Noureldin said. “Refugees will be the ones that are most affected.”
The Supreme Court said it would look at the Muslim ban in detail in its next term, which begins in October, although a decision may not come until next June.
The court provided criteria for travel applications from people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen as well as for asylum bids by refugees until then. Under the Trump plan, published in March after a first version in January was struck down by the courts, citizens of the six countries would be barred from entering the United States for 90 days unless they already had a valid visa or residence permit. The acceptance of refugees from all over the world would be stopped for 120 days. This second Muslim ban was also cancelled by federal courts.
The Supreme Court said the Trump administration had the right to deny entry to people without “bona fide” ties to the United States but applicants with such a connection — relatives living in the United States, a letter of acceptance by a US university or a job with a US company — could enter the country, the court said.
Three days after the ruling, the administration defined in detail what “bona fide” ties are. Media reports said parents, children, a spouse, siblings or parents-in-law living in the United States could be counted as “bona fide” ties for an applicant. However, grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, a fiancé or brothers- and sisters-in-law could not.
Trump argued he needed the entry suspension to develop better vetting procedures to make sure no militants slip into the United States posing as visitors, students, workers or refugees. Rights groups, however, said that was just a pretext. The new set was “arbitrary and is not tied to any legitimate government purpose,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said on Twitter. “It remains clear that President Trump’s purpose is to disparage and condemn Muslims.”
Noureldin, a lawyer who formerly worked for a federal judge in California, said the new regulation appeared to be in contradiction of a previous Supreme Court ruling that had defined ties between grandparents and grandchildren as a “close familial relationship.” It was hard to see a national security rationale behind the rules, he said: “To me, it seems petty.”
While visitors, students or workers may point to a “bona fide” reason to enter the United States, the situation is different for refugees, many of whom have no connection to America. Even under the rules before the Muslim ban, many refugees had to wait for years before being accepted by the United States while authorities checked their backgrounds.
Given that the world is going through the biggest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war and that some countries have been hosting millions of refugees, the US restrictions came under severe criticism even before the Muslim ban and the Supreme Court decision. Rights activists said the ruling puts lives at risk.
“The court’s decision threatens damage to vulnerable people waiting to come to the US: People with urgent medical conditions blocked, innocent people left adrift, all of whom have been extensively vetted,” David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said in a statement.
The Trump administration slashed the number of refugees allowed into the United States until the end of the fiscal year in September, from 110,000 people, a goal set under the Obama administration, to 50,000. Reports said the number of newly arrived refugees in the United States is sinking fast, with estimates indicating a total of 60,000 could be accepted by September.
As the debate about the new Muslim ban began, it emerged that Trump had given US authorities more power to scrutinise visa applications. The news portal The Hill reported that Trump signed an executive order cancelling parts of an order by his predecessor Barack Obama that said most visa applicants should be interviewed within three weeks. As a result, waiting times for applicants could rise. “This is a very straightforward step that removes an arbitrary requirement and ensures the State Department has the needed discretion to make real-world security determinations,” White House spokesman Michael Short told The Hill.