President Donald Trump has issued an executive order halting all refugee admissions for four months, barred Syrian refugees until further notice and blocking citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The executive order has already caused significant controversy, has caused chaos on America’s immigration system only days after being implemented and provoked international condemnation and protest. So what exactly is included in the executive order, how is it being enforced and what questions has the order left?
KEY POINTS OF THE EXECUTIVE ORDER
- Suspension of the US’ refugee programme for 90 days
- Indefinite ban on refugees from Syria
- 90-day suspension on anyone entering the United States from the following countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen (with exemptions for diplomats and the UN)
- Cap on 50,000 refugees to be allowed into the US this year, less than half the total set by former President Obama
WHY HAS THIS BEEN INTRODUCED?
Donald Trump was elected on an anti-immigration ticket, claiming that the immigration system under the Obama administration did not sufficiently protect America from potential terrorists. The strict implementations have been imposed whilst the Trump administration determines how to implement so-called ‘extreme vetting’ procedures. Trump has stood firm on the order, despite the controversy surrounding it, saying it will ‘keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the US’.
WHO IS AFFECTED?
The order itself covered all people with a visa from the seven Middle Eastern and North African nations listed, including ‘green card’ holders who already had permission to be in the United States. This meant if they were to leave the US, they would be unable to return. However, the Department of Homeland Security has tried to reassure these people that these people would be allowed to re-enter the United States in such circumstances. However, a whole host of people from all walks of life have also had their ability to freely travel in and out of the US restricted, although border officials could allow them to return on a case by case basis. For refugees, preference is being given to Christians over Muslims as part of the order.
WHY THOSE COUNTRIES?
The seven countries listed in the executive order were chosen as they were already listed on as ‘countries of concern’ in a law passed by a Republican-led Congress in 2015, which altered the nation’s visa admissions programme. However, the ban does not include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt or Lebanon, which were the countries of origin for the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.
IS IT LEGAL?
At the time of writing, this is unclear and Trump recently fired his Attorney General, Sally Yates, for questioning the legality of his executive order.
Opponents of the ban have said that the executive order violates the United States constitution. They have claimed that the order’s preferential treatment of Christian refugees and targeting of those of a Muslim faith amounts to the establishment of a state religion – a move prohibited by the First Amendment, which allows freedom of religion. in addition, they have said that both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee rights to due process, have been breached through the order’s denial of entry for people with valid visas.
The order does cite a federal immigration law from 1952, which gave the President the power to suspend the entry ‘of all aliens or any class of aliens’ into the United States when the President deems it detrimental to the country’s interests. However, a revision of the same law 13 years later states that people cannot be discriminated against being issued an immigrant visa based on ‘race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence’.
Already, judges in four states have granted requests by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for temporary injunctions to prohibit the deportation of people detained at US airports.
The United Nations have also claimed that the ban is illegal under international law.
However, it will likely be up to the Supreme Court of the United States to have the final say on whether the order is constitutional or not.
DIDN’T OBAMA TAKE A SIMILAR MEASURE?
In 2011, then-President Obama called a hiatus on accepting refugees from Iraq for six months, after two al-Qaeda terrorists from the country were found living as refugees in Kentucky. However, Obama’s order was much narrower in focus and did not apply to green card holders or those who had already been through the vetting process.
In addition, the Obama administration was reacting to a specific threat at the time and only took such action against one country (with some Iraqi refugees who had gone through the vetting process still being allowed to enter the country). In contrast, Trump’s executive order outright prohibits over 130 million people across seven countries from entering the United States, regardless of whether they have gone through the vetting process or not.
In short, these are not comparable.
- United Nations – “We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race.”
- United Kingdom – “We will protect the rights and freedoms of UK nationals home and abroad. Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality.” (Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson)
- Canada – “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” (Justin Trudeau)
- Germany – “The necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion.” (spokesperson for Angela Merkel)
- Iran – “[The order] will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters.” (Foreign Minister Javad Zarif)
- Czech Republic – “US President Trump protects his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens. Exactly what EU elites do not do.” (President Milos Zeman)
- Amnesty International – “President Trump’s Executive Order effectively blocking those fleeing war and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria, from seeking safe haven in the USA are an appalling move with potentially catastrophic consequences.”