By Adanya Hicks.
On July 19th, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on restrictions against the entry of family members and against refugees entering the country. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to relax the current travel ban against several predominantly Muslim countries. The ruling allows grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives to get visas to travel into the U.S. during the ban. This ruling comes after the administration of current US president, Donald Trump, who put the ban in place, challenged its relaxation by issuing guidelines, calling for a narrow interpretation of “close” family members. These guidelines were met with opposition from those arguing that too strict an interpretation would tear families apart. Neal Katyal, the lead lawyer for Hawaii, who challenged the ban, argued that “Compelling a grandparent to be apart from his grandchild – especially one seeking refuge from violence or persecution – inflicts hardship of unbearable severity”. This decision follows the Supreme Court ruling last month which allowed a watered down version of the initial ban to go into effect this summer. The initial ban affected travelers from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, and caused massive confusion in part due to uncertainty about how it affected green card holders, visa holders, and dual citizens. The newest version drops Iraq from the list of affected countries and allows those with a “bona fide connection” to someone or something in the United States. The July 19th ruling clarifies this further by allowing a greater list of relatives to enter the country.
Despite relaxing the ban, the Court also blocked an order which exempted a category of refugees (those who had an arrangement with a US-based aid group to come to the U.S.) from being banned. The ruling leaves 24,000 refugees who were already assigned to a resettlement organization unable to get into the country.
The controversial ban has wreaked havoc since the initial version was first put in place on January 27th, 2017 – just days after President Donald Trump was sworn into office. President Trump insisted that the ban is necessary for national security and does not specifically target Muslims. However, the ban led to an international outcry and drew criticism from different political leaders and human rights groups who argued that the ban was Islamophobic, racist, and in violation of the United States’ own laws and ideals. U.S. senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham said that from the confusion surrounding the order it was clear that it “was not properly vetted” and likely went into effect “with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security”. They also said that “the executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country”. Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International said that even the new version of the ban “shows a xenophobic policy towards Muslims which is mutating, virus-like, into an ever more resilient strain”. The refugee portion of the ban has been scrutinized as well. Naureen Shah, the senior director of campaigns for Amnesty International USA argues that the ban “will jeopardise the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people, including people and families fleeing war, violence and torture”. Overall, much of the public believes that the ban is doing more harm than good and that it is not protecting Americans from potential attacks. This is due in part to the fact that the recent terror attacks in Europe were not committed by new immigrants or by refugees. They were homegrown attacks. Consequently, many see the ban as something that only serves to alienate Muslims in the United States and further the rhetoric that the U.S. is at war with Islam.
During its initial implementation, the ban caused chaos and confusion and left thousands of people stuck in limbo. Many could not enter the country as scheduled and others had their entire lives put on pause because of the decision. There were protests at many major U.S. airports like JFK International in New York and Immigration lawyers headed to airports to give immediate assistance to those who were affected. In a report entitled “My Family Was In Shock”, Amnesty International highlights twelve case studies and illustrates how the ban affected those described. The situations involved spouses being separated from each other, researchers with visas being uncertain if they could safely leave the country, and even parents being separated from their children. For instance a man referred to as “Baraa H.” speaks about how his family had to leave their newborn baby while the rest of the family rushed back into the US. Baraa is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Yemen. He had sponsored his wife and his eldest daughter for visas. However, when he filled out an application for his youngest daughter after she was born, the application was processed separately. Eventually, his wife and eldest daughter received their visas, but the baby’s had not been approved yet. The family was staying in Malaysia to escape dangerous conditions in Yemen when the travel ban was put into place. Once the ban was temporarily blocked, the family hurried to the U.S. out of fear that they’d be banned once again if they waited too long. Since the baby did not have a visa yet, they made the decision to leave her in Malaysia with some of their friends. The separation caused the family emotional pain and turmoil, and Baraa’s wife was hit especially hard. After returning to the U.S., Baraa told Amnesty International “You can imagine how she is missing her child. Even I am truly suffering. I feel torn inside that I left my baby”. The family and their baby were separated for more than two months.
The same report also mentions how the ban has hurt people already in the United States, with one woman who moved to the U.S. as a child saying “Overnight I went from feeling American to feeling like an invader in my own country. I felt like my country didn’t want me. I felt like if they could take away my citizenship they would”. The Supreme Court will rule on whether-or-not the ban is Constitutional later this year, but it’s clear that no matter what the ruling, the rift that it has caused is not going away anytime soon.