Immigrant groups are fighting to ensure we never have another Muslim ban again

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Passing the NO BAN Act would prevent future presidents from banning people on the basis of their religion under the guise of national security, experts say.

Immigration groups are rallying around a recently reintroduced bill that would bar future presidents from issuing any discriminatory travel bans on the basis of religion.

On Feb. 25, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) reintroduced the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act as a standalone bill that mirrors a provision in Democrats' broader immigration legislation, the U.S. Citizenship Act.

The bill "strengthens the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, and restores the separation of powers by limiting overly broad executive authority to issue future travel bans," according to a press release.

Chu had first introduced the NO BAN bill, a response to Donald Trump's Muslim ban, which targeted travelers from several Muslim majority countries, in 2019. It passed the House in July 2020, however, the legislation was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

Chu stressed the importance of the newly reintroduced bill in a statement, saying, "We cannot risk letting prejudice become policy again."

"I am proud that the NO BAN Act was included in President Biden’s signature immigration reform bill but we want to make sure that no matter what happens, this vital change is made to our laws," she said in an email to the American Independent Foundation. "And so, I have once again introduced this bill as a standalone bill so that we have more options to pass this needed reform and stop any future bans."

Aarti Kohli, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, said the NO BAN Act's reintroduction as a standalone bill "allows [it] to move more efficiently through the legislative process, particularly given the bill passed through the House last year."

"It also allows the bill to move forward in its entirety and its original form, as opposed to the legislation being a part of the US Citizenship Act of 2021, since the latter will likely require more time for members to deliberate and may be subject to changes in its final form," Kohli explained in an email.

Tom Jawetz, immigration policy vice president at the Center for American Progress, said in a phone interview that it was important to present the bill as a standalone, rather than waiting for the broader immigration legislation to pass, as it maintained valuable "momentum."

"You want to show that it remains a priority," he said. "So, I think there is symbolic value ... but also pragmatic value, because you never know what exemptions [would be included with the larger immigration bill]."

For years, immigration groups have been pushing back against the Muslim ban and urging officials to ensure such a policy is not implemented again.

Following the NO BAN Act's reintroduction last month, Muslim Advocates' executive director Farhana Khera issued a statement calling it "a historic Muslim civil rights bill" that would "close dangerous loopholes in our immigration laws and ensure that no future president can enact discriminatory immigration bans again."

Echoing that sentiment, Kohli said that passing the bill "not only ensures that the thousands of families impacted by the bans no longer have to live in fear of any future bans, but it also ensures that this dark chapter in the country’s history is not repeated."

President Joe Biden on his first day as president rescinded Trump's Muslim ban, reversing years of chaotic back and forth over the fraught policy, which left many immigrant families in limbo.

Still, advocates say more must be done.

As Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian-American Council, explained in a statement on Feb. 25, "President Biden fulfilled his promise to end the Muslim ban on day one, but Trumpism and xenophobia remain strong forces in American politics. Just as Biden wiped away the ban, a successor administration could reimpose it without further action."

He urged Congress to "pass the NO BAN Act quickly and send it to President Biden for his signature."

Though Trump and his defenders frequently defended the Muslim Ban, one of Trump's first actions in office, on the grounds of "national security" concerns, experts say there was "little" evidence limiting entry into the country actually had any effect. Many pointed to his comments during the 2016 campaign, when he had pledged a "complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, as proof of his real intentions.

Amnesty International UK called Trump's Muslim ban "a licence to discriminate, disguised as a 'national security measure.'"

The American Civil Liberties Union slammed the policy as a clear attempt to target Muslims more broadly. "The fact that Trump has added North Korea ... and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn't obfuscate the real fact that the administration's order is still a Muslim ban," said Anthony D. Romero, the group's executive director, speaking to Global Citizen about Trump's third iteration of the ban, implemented in late 2017.

Some argued the policy wasn't legal.

As lawyer Eric Rothschild wrote for Just Security in 2018, "DHS may have recommended restrictions on non-immigrant travel from specific countries, but it appears not to have done so for immigration—which just makes sense, because federal law prohibits it from doing so."

He added, "...Right now, the government’s main rationale for upholding the ban rests on mere assertion, not evidence—and there is reason to doubt whether the assertions and evidence line up."

Overall, the ban was widely panned as a humanitarian disaster, with many stranded or directionless for months.

Protesters flooded airports across the country in January 2017, after the ban first went into effect, demanding travelers impacted by the sudden decision be released, as many had been held up by security despite having visas and proper documentation. Lawyers flocked to the sites, giving affected families free consultations, and lobbying for those stuck in limbo.

"I was, like, one hour-and-a-half away from them," said one man, speaking to CNN at the time, while waiting for his parents who had been detained at the Philadelphia International Airport.

"I haven’t seen them for three years, so, it was really hard for me to not hug them, to not be with them."

In his proclamation revoking the ban in January, Biden called Trump's Muslim ban a "stain on our national conscience" that was "inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all."

"Make no mistake, where there are threats to our nation, we will address them," he said. "...But we will not turn our backs on our values with discriminatory bans on entry into the United States."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.