Two years after the end of the Muslim Ban, many Muslims still cannot travel to the U.S.
Shortly after former President Donald Trump was inaugurated, I made the decision to leave my position as a tenured civil servant at the Department of State. I knew what was at stake for American democracy and for communities of color, and I didn’t want to have any part in it. Sadly, and quickly, I was proven correct. Within weeks of Trump taking office, he signed an executive order – now known commonly as the “Muslim Ban” – that banned people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S. for 90 days. The order also blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked other refugees from entering for 120 days.
This order was just the beginning. It set off a chain of bans, released concurrently to courts at all levels fighting over the orders’ legality. Throughout the proceedings, one aspect remained abundantly clear: the bans targeted Muslim, and later African, countries. They were key tools that Trump used to fulfill his campaign promise for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
At the 2020 Million Muslim Votes summit, hosted by Emgage (the civic organization that I lead), then-candidate Biden promised to rescind the ban on his first day in office. It ended up being one of his first acts as president. In 2020 and 2021, the NO BAN Act, a bill aiming to limit presidential authority in restricting foreigners from entering the country, was introduced in Congress and passed the House. However, this bill never came to a vote in the Senate, which means our work continues. Emgage Action – the advocacy wing of Emgage – lobbied hard for the end of the ban and the passage of the NO BAN Act. We are grateful for these developments, but we know all too well that the fight isn’t over.
To this day, travelers, immigrants, and refugees from majority Muslim countries still have great difficulty visiting or moving to the U.S. All too often, the reason is where they come from, rather than any credible threat they may pose to the United States. Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), for example, citizens of 40 countries can travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. However, if those citizens, including European ones, happen to have traveled to, or hold dual citizenship of certain Muslim countries, then they are ineligible and must apply for a visa. Moreover, many of them are denied their visa requests altogether. Muslim religious leaders, especially those from the Shi’a community, are regularly denied entry because they have traveled to or are from Iran, Syria, or Iraq.
Although President Biden effectively rescinded the Muslim and Africa Bans, there are lasting impacts that have yet to be addressed. Even the newly created and much welcomed private sponsorship scheme for refugees that was recently announced, may end up doing little for the Syrian refugee family languishing in Lebanon or Turkey. Since the same draconian security measures still apply to those from Syria (and other majority Muslim countries), most are unlikely to pass vetting.
We are a country of laws, but also a country of values and principles and we should not discriminate based on religion or national origin. Unfortunately, because of War on Terror-era discriminatory practices, Muslim travelers and immigrants continue to be denied entry under the pretext of security vetting.
Make no mistake: the movement of individuals from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are particularly linked to disastrous U.S. foreign policies by both Republican ad Democratic administrations. As a former State Department official who worked on U.S. Middle East policy, I saw firsthand the consequence of our failure to prioritize the wellbeing and dignity of people in the region. Given the role we have played in the misfortune of others, especially in the Near East region, the least we can do is welcome them. The U.S. has a moral obligation to open its doors to those seeking refuge, without preference for skin color or religion. We cannot facilitate the migration from places like Ukraine while making entry difficult for those from predominantly Muslim countries. All are deserving.
While the Muslim Ban has ended, traces of it remain – and three years after the ban was rescinded, it’s time to fully put it to bed.