With the Supreme Court giving Donald Trump a yellow light for his Muslim ban, while indicating that it is inclined to give it a full green light later this fall, one thing has become clear: Relying solely on the legal approach to halt Trump’s ban is a bad strategy. To stop the ban ― and restore the U.S. Constitution ― Congress must step up.
The onus is now on Congress to stop turning a blind eye to the Muslim ban debacle. The legislative branch has the power to pass legislation immediately that would rescind and defund the president’s executive order. In fact, legislation has already been introduced in the House and the Senate that would do exactly that. Unfortunately, while nearly every single Democrat in Congress has endorsed this legislation, not a single Republican has supported the effort. Until now, Republican leadership in the House and Senate has instead blocked Congress from holding a vote on whether to repeal the ban and had not held a single hearing or investigation on the ban. Instead, Congress has dodged the issue and largely been let off the hook as long as it appeared that the courts would clean up the president’s mess.
Now, that is no longer an option.
When Donald Trump first began to call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, Republicans from Mike Pence to Paul Ryan were all but unanimous in denouncing the then-candidate’s proposal. Once Trump entered the Oval Office, however, that all changed. Now Pence and Ryan are stuck running interference for their president at the expense of their country. The principles and values they were willing to defend against candidate Trump are, so far, expendable.
But that wasn’t necessarily the case from the beginning. After the nightmare of Trump’s initial Muslim ban began to dawn across the country in his first week in office ― with scenes of chaos at airports and scores of innocent people forcibly removed from flights ― a functioning Congress would have intervened. The public outrage and risk of major political blowback would have spurred enough lawmakers, even in the president’s party, to at least demand hearings. Lawmakers would have asked questions ― on U.S. national security implications, on the impact for American civil liberties, on the implementation of the order itself. Instead, Congress has done absolutely nothing.
Instead, Congress has left it up to the courts to provide the sole check on a dangerous executive. You could practically hear GOP lawmakers collectively exhaling a sigh of relief when the ban was put on by the courts early on, allowing Congress to avoid confronting the new president. The scenes of innocent people being detained and turned away at airports would perhaps fade from memory as the courts restored order.
But today’s Supreme Court action threatens to throw things back into disarray. The decision will create significant ambiguities as to who will be allowed to enter the country. It gives extraordinary discretion to the Trump administration and consular officers to decide who qualifies as having a “bonafide” relationship with a U.S. person or entity, which is now necessary for banned nationals to enter the country. It will leave families from affected communities, including the approximately one million Iranian Americans in the U.S., to deal in uncertainty as to when and how they will see their loved ones.
Allowing for a hearing or debate on the Muslim ban should not be a partisan issue. Leaked memos from Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security have cast serious doubt on the national security merits of a travel ban. The Republican-led House convened a task force to evaluate terrorist threats from abroad prior to Trump’s election and did not find that nationals from Trump’s “banned” list posed a threat. Not a single person from the so-called banned countries has ever been involved in a terrorism-related death on U.S. soil. Yet not one of these facts has been raised or debated in an official Congressional setting. Lawmakers have prioritized partisan politics, and protecting Donald Trump, over serving their constituents and protecting the Constitution. And until the Supreme Court brought the ban back to life, lawmakers likely judged that the costs for ignoring the ban were relatively low.
As an Iranian American, I know firsthand how the Muslim ban punishes American communities. There is no one in our community who hasn’t been impacted at some level, whether it is a friend’s postponed wedding, an uncle who is stuck in limbo in a third country without a visa, or the elderly grandfather who has been detained for hours at the airport as family members scramble to make contact. Perhaps these stories are lost on lawmakers, who fail to understand that real people are being hurt by the president’s policies. But they are not lost on those of us living through Trump’s nightmare.
If the ban indeed gets the Supreme Court’s green light to move forward, lawmakers who failed to raise a finger against it will be complicit in a national travesty. History will not judge them kindly, but we don’t have time to wait for that verdict. Our elected officials must understand loud and clear: Donald Trump’s ban is not worth saving and, if lawmakers continue their inaction, voters won’t judge them kindly either.