Explainer: Why the US Supreme Court is relevant to Arabs and the Middle East

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The US Supreme Court may seem like a domestic concern for American citizens only. But the reality is that the court, made up of nine justices, has a direct impact on several nations, including the Arab world.

Al Arabiya English takes a look at some of the issues - that could impact Arabs directly - which the Supreme Court could have the final say on.

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Travel Ban

Shortly after taking office, US President Donald Trump issued a travel ban in 2017 that targeted Muslim-majority countries. The initial list included not allowing most people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen to enter the United States.

Trump said this was done in order to protect the US from “terrorist activities by foreign nationals.”

After being struck down by courts in the US, two amended versions were drafted, and the Supreme Court later upheld the final one.

Additional countries were added this year, including Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Sudan. All three have majority Muslim populations.

Out of the nine justices, five are considered conservative, and three are liberal. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away earlier this month, dealing a blow to the Supreme Court and to the liberal point of view on the bench.

Trump has since nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett, believed to be more conservative. This will give Trump and the Republican party their third appointment to the Supreme Court since taking office in 2017.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett pictured during her speech after being nominated to the US Supreme Court. (White House)
Judge Amy Coney Barrett pictured during her speech after being nominated to the US Supreme Court. (White House)

Read more: US Supreme Court rules for Trump over travel ban


Another policy that Trump has focused on since being elected is illegal immigration into the United States.

In the 2020 fiscal year, the US said just 18,000 refugees would be allowed in, the lowest level since the modern refugee resettlement program began in 1980. While 4,000 of those spots were carved out for Iraqis who supported US interests, only 118 people in that category had been admitted as of mid-September.

In addition, 11 countries, including Iraq, faced new, extra levels of vetting. Admissions for those countries slowed to a trickle.

In fiscal year 2016, before Trump was elected, the US admitted 9,880 refugees from Iraq. That dropped to 144 just two years later in 2018 and 465 in the 2019 fiscal year, according to government data.

As the number of refugees overall has dropped, the proportion of Muslim refugees compared to Christians has also declined, according to an analysis of government data shared with Reuters. In fiscal year 2017, 43 percent of the 53,716 admitted refugees were Muslim, while 44 percent were Christian. In fiscal year 2020 through mid-August, 71 percent of the 8,310 refugees allowed were Christian, and just 21 percent were Muslim, the data showed.

Trump’s overhaul of the immigration system has had a significant impact on Mexicans who, like others, believe that making a move to America will provide a better future for them and their families. Billions of US taxpayer dollars have been invested into a cement wall being built along the US-Mexico border.

And like Mexican and other Latin-Americans, Arabs have long attempted to escape persecution or wars for a better life in Europe and the US.

The Supreme Court will have a say in policy on immigration and the living and workings rights of non-citizens on US soil.

Citizenship at birth

Trump has criticized the right to citizenship for any person born in the United States, which applies even to children born to tourists. But scrapping that right would require a change in the US Constitution as now US law bars foreign women from traveling to the US to give birth.

Consular officers previously could require visitors to prove they have the financial means to pay for a medical procedure if that is the reason for the trip.

Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that approximately 9,300 children were born in the United States to mothers who live overseas in 2017, with an additional 900 born in US territories. However, the CDC did not examine births to tourists specifically.

The Trump administration rolled out a policy earlier this year, raising the possibility that pregnant women applying for visitor visas could be required to prove they have a specific reason for travel beyond giving birth, such as a medical necessity.

Ultimately, such an issue could be ruled on or challenged in front of the Supreme Court.

Read more: Ban Muslims? Which ones?

- With Reuters

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