How far is the Trump administration willing to fight for its travel ban?

Walid Jawad
Walid Jawad
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How far is the Trump administration willing to fight for its travel ban? Last week, the third iteration of the travel ban suspending travel from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen was struck down by a federal court judge in Hawaii; only a day shy of its enforcement. “The Department of Justice is resolutely focused on dealing with the terrorism threat we face; they are real” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And resolute they appear to be.

READ ALSO: US judge blocks latest version of Trump travel ban

This travel ban rigmarole is multifaceted and complex. Yet, the ten month push-and-pull can be distilled down to broad strokes. It started when Trump issued an Executive Order putting the order in effect a week into his presidency on January 27, 2017. This first ban of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was deemed to be, in fact, a “Muslim ban.” Once dubbed as such it became in violation of American Constitution.

The countries listed in the ban are Muslim majority nations, which only became an issue based on candidate Trump publicized position. His campaign press release stated that Trump “is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The courts found the Executive Order banning travel from the listed countries tantamount to singling out Muslims, which is a clear violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Trump signed a new Executive Order making changes in hopes it would withstand legal scrutiny as it provides further clarity. The first order was plagued with confusion over the scope of the ban and how to implement it. Yet The Trump administration reasoning remained unchanged. National security was cited as the motivator. Sessions in his testimony said “the military tells us they can expect not a reduction after ISIS is defeated but maybe even an increase in attacks. The president's executive order is an important step in ensuring that we know who is coming into our country. It’s a lawful and necessary order that we are proud to defend.”

The Trump administration’s travel ban has been defeated by the courts time and again. The White House is not deterred. Trump can hang his hat, for now, on the option of moving the fight up to the Supreme Court.

Walid Jawad

The second travel ban replaced the first Executive Order with some notable changes including dropping Iraq from the list of banned countries, dropping the Syrian suspension of refugees, dropping the prioritization of refugees based on religious minority status. The order, on the other hand, renewed the suspension of the refugee program for 120 days. The courts struck down this version as well based on the same legal grounds as the first order. In response, the administration resorted to legal options to block the injunction. On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments to vacate the injunctions in October.

As the Trump administration was worried of an unfavorable outcome by the Supreme Court it made adjustments to the updated/second Executive Order by issuing a Proclamation. This update altered the second ban in a few ways; one, the composition of the countries it listed dropping Sudan while adding Chad, Venezuela and North Korea. This change was widely viewed as a way to diffuse the court’s argument that the ban is a Muslim ban. In response to the 24 September Proclamation the Supreme Court canceled its scheduled hearing taking no action on any of provisions including the President’s refugee ban.

Throughout the different iterations of the travel ban, the provision dealing with refugee stayed intact. The Executive Order suspended acceptance and relocation of refugees for 120 days, which expired days ago on October 24. The White House allowed the sunset provision to take its course without any new announcement. Yet, the administration was busy putting together new vetting procedures. In addition to more biographical data collected, social media posts will be mined to cross reference the stories applicant cite when submitting their request. The new, more stringent standard of vetting, will expand to women and children. The current vetting process can take upward of two years to conclude. There is no clear sense if “improved” vetting will cause a backlog and longer wait periods.

Ban defeated

The Trump administration’s travel ban has been defeated by the courts time and again. The White House is not deterred. Trump can hang his hat, for now, on the option of moving the fight up to the Supreme Court. That’s concerning the legal track, it’s a different fight that he has to wage against critics including those within his own Republican party.

The latest critique of Trump’s policies was by former President George W. Bush: “We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments - forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places” a broad stroke rebuke. Bush never mentioned Trump by name nor did he delved into the specific of anyone issue -- he didn’t ignore them either. When Bush said that “we know that when we lose sight of our ideals, it is not democracy that has failed. It is the failure of those charged with preserving and protecting democracy,” he seems to be addressing the travel ban.

The saga of the travel ban will continue as part of a war over basic American values wrapped up in legal battles. If successful, this piece of the political puzzle will eventually promote the creation of a new norm. When and if this White House is able to move its different policies forward the lauded American value system will inevitably change. Thus, making the Trump presidency a fight for the soul of America and that’s how the voting public is perceiving it and what is guiding an increasing number of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (BA) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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