Saturday, January 28th, 2017, will remain permanently etched in the memories of those who travelled to the US, and despite the fact that they had various types of valid entry permits into the country, were denied access at their points of entry into the US, because they were travelling from the seven countries on President Donald Trump’s travel ban list, namely, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The Executive Order
On January 27th, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order as follows:
“By this authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq and Section 301 of Title 3, United States Code, and to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows: …….pursuant to Section 212 (f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrants and nonimmigrants entry into the Unites States of aliens from countries referred to in Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order…..”
Those travelling from Syria were banned indefinitely. Trump’s action, in fulfilment of his campaign promises, received worldwide condemnation, including the fact that his action did not include the wealthier Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Indonesia, where Trump is said to have business interests.
Supporters of Trump argue that his action is lawful and he is well within his rights to carry out this Presidential Prerogative.
Interestingly, six of the seven countries that Trump imposed this travel ban on, all have travel ban restrictions on Israelis, and some have even gone as far as not allowing those who have Israeli visas in their passports, entry into their countries. I don’t remember anyone making such a big fuss about the Israeli travel ban by these countries, so why is Trump’s action such a big deal now? It could be because of the unfair and unceremonious way that his Executive Order was carried out, that there is widespread anger. I do agree that there could have been a better way to protect American citizens, than to treat those who were already qualified to enter the US so badly. It sends the wrong signal, when Government who should be the custodian of the law, flouts the law. It generally signifies a breakdown of law and order, no respect for the rule of law.
However, the question remains, should I not be allowed to decide who has access to my house or not? Would one simply fling open one’s doors to a large group of people from Sambisa forest just like that, without proper vetting, because they claim to be IDPs, knowing that some of them could very well be Boko Haram members pretending to be refugees, with the sole purpose of infiltration to cause harm to innocent people?
Those that are against Trump’s action have condemned it as unconstitutional and unlawful, citing the 1965 Immigration Act, Section 1152(a) of Title 8, U.S.C. which provides that “No person shall receive any preference or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” They say his Executive Order contravenes this provision. The question is, which is superior, the Executive Order or this law which seems to curtail and undermine this
Presidential Prerogative? In the days to come, I am sure this question will be answered by the courts.
Obama’s 2011 Immigration Restriction
Some have likened Trump’s travel ban to former President Obama’s immigration restriction measures of 2011, in which the US State Department stopped processing Iraqi Refugee requests for six months. Aside from the fact that Obama’s policy was narrower in scope than that of Trump, targeting only Iraqis, the measure was a reaction to a failed plot by some Iraqi Nationals who had gained entry into USA under the guise of being refugees, had lied and concealed their terrorist backgrounds and were planning to send money weapons and explosives to al-Qaida for terrorist activities .
Ghana Must Go
Though it is not exactly the same, this whole saga reminds me of the “Ghana Must Go” episode of January, 1983, when the then President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, ordered all immigrants without correct papers to leave the country within a few weeks. About two million West Africans comprising of one million Ghanians, were affected by the order. They were given about a month to leave Nigeria. Apparently, Ghana had done the same thing in 1969, when it banished Nigerians and other immigrants, giving them two weeks to obtain resident permits, or exit the country.
While Trump’s decision is purportedly based more on the dangers posed by terrorism, the African decisions were based on economic and social issues, for which aliens were held responsible for.
Idi Amin Dada, Conqueror of the British Empire
Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, in 1972 expelled Asians from his country, giving them only ninety days to leave. The Asians comprised mostly of Indian Gujaratis who had resided in East Africa for over a hundred years. Out of a population of approximately 80,000 Asians, about 23,000 who had earlier processed their citizen applications and had been accepted, were subsequently exempted from the expulsion, but many of them opted to leave Uganda voluntarily. Asians owned a lot of large businesses in Uganda, and after their departure, over 5000 business concerns were reallocated to Ugandans.
Many saw Idi Amin as being a narcissistic, mentally unstable megalomaniac. He claimed that God had instructed him to expel the Asians because of their exploitation of the Ugandan citizens and economic malpractices! However, rumour had it that the reason for the Asian expulsion was the refusal of Amin’s (who was a known chronic womaniser) request to an Asian family to give their young daughter to him in marriage (even though he already had four wives). Instead the girl was spirited out of Uganda to Kenya and Idi Amin’s anger knew no bounds. He apparently felt insulted and discriminated against by the Indians, vowing to punish them.
Similarly, many are saying that Trump’s actions are borne out of his racist and discriminatory tendencies and has not much to do with the security and protection of American citizens against terror attacks. Some have started to question Trump’s mental capacity, especially in the wake of the other Mexican Wall issue. Trump has used the 9/11 terror attacks as part of the justification for his action. However, the 9/11 attackers did not come from any of the seven countries on Trump’s list, but were citizens of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and UAE, countries which are not included on the travel ban list.
Law suits were instituted against Trump’s Executive Order in several places like New York, Washington, Virginia and Massachusetts. While a Federal Court in Washington issued a stay preventing travellers that had been refused entry and detained, from being deported back to their countries, Boston ruled that people could not be detained on the basis of Trump’s Order. The Acting Attorney-General of the US, Sally Yates, was sacked by President Trump after she advised the Justice Department not to implement the travel ban, as it was unclear if the ban was “legally defensible”.
The latest development in this matter, is that a US Federal Judge in Seattle, Washington State has issued a restraining order, ordering a nationwide suspension on President Trump’s Executive Order, reopening US borders to visa holders from those seven countries on the list. Some have called this order unusual, because Federal Judges usually restrict their decisions to their own districts, but this particular ruling was extended nationwide. The Judge’s reasoning was that the rules of entry into the US affect the whole country, and must be uniform.
Of course the White House has reacted, saying that the Justice Department will certainly file an appeal against the Judge’s order.
Some may say that Trump is being unnecessarily paranoid and myopic in his views, stereotyping all Muslims from certain parts of the world, because of the terrorist activities in their countries. The truth of the matter is that there are terrorists from different religious backgrounds, everywhere. Nigeria is not excluded with its Boko Haram.
The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project aka Jonestown, was an American, supposedly Christian religious group, established by Jim Jones, a white American. In 1978, in Northwest Guyana, 909 American members of this sect committed mass suicide by ingesting cyanide. However, survivors of the sect called it mass murder, insisting that those that drank the poison did so under duress from Jim Jones, the group’s leader. Before the ‘believers’ consumed the cyanide, Jones had ordered the killing of five other people, including American Congressman, Leo Ryan.
The Jonestown deaths was the largest single loss of American civilian lives until the 9/11 incident in 2001.
The Moral of the Story
There are crazy extremists all over the world, whether religious, racist, homophobic or simply mentally unhinged. Dylan Roof, a twenty-two year old white American was recently sentenced to death for killing nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina. His crime was described as a ‘federal hate crime’.
While I agree that there has to be a more efficient and effective way of vetting aliens before giving them access to one’s country, as we have seen cases of people camouflaging as refugees and tourists to gain access into a country, ending up taking the lives of many innocent people, there has to be a better and more orderly way of doing so, than what happened on January 28th, 2017.
It is however, refreshing to see the independence of the Judiciary in the United States of America at play. It is not just a mantra like in Nigeria, but actually exists in reality. The US Federal Judge by virtue of his restraining order, essentially overruled the Executive Order of the President of the United States of America, calling it unconstitutional! In Nigeria, the Executive regularly breaches the laws and the Constitution, and no one seems to be able to call the Executive to order.