Combating the Muslim Ban: People, courts & the Constitution

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 by Meejin Richart
(Advocacy & Events Associate, Center for Constitutional Rights
Member, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development)

Photo: “Emergency Rally for Muslim & Immigrant Rights” in Washington Square Park, New York City on January 25, 2017.
(Photo credit CCR Staff.)

I have been horrified ever since the election and also as a Korean in diaspora based in the U.S. This goes back much further than when the first few executive orders came out. It goes back even before Donald Trump’s election. The history of Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, and more goes beyond our current time and place. Yet, for my article, I’d like to focus on what happened with the Muslim Ban and to think through how to build a successful resistance movement against the Trump Administration.

What happened
Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump riled up supporters in the U.S. by telling them that he was going to call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice…. We can be politically correct and we can be stupid. But it’s gonna get worse and worse. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem, and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victim of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad.”

On Jan. 27, he lived up to that promise by banning nationals of seven Muslim countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – for at least 90 days through an executive order. Furthermore, the order indefinitely prevented Syrian people from entering the U.S. By next morning, we began to hear reports of people arriving from the named countries being detained at the airport, cancellations of visas and application appointments, and deportations. There were calls via email and social media to go and rally outside of Delta Terminal 4 at JFK airport, and thousands of people gathered that day and into the night, and over the course of the following week primarily providing emergency legal support.

Through social media, I learned that movement friends around the country – in LA, the Bay, Seattle, and other cities – were also gathering at airports to protest, do sit-ins, and provide support for those folks who were being detained or held.

Since then, in addition to ongoing protests in front of various Trump Towers in multiple cities, a number of actions have taken place primarily in the courtroom to impact the Muslim ban. Notably, on Jan. 28, a federal judge in New York City put a temporary stay on the ban which meant that part of the order was blocked; but not fully. 1 On Jan. 30, Donald Trump fired his attorney general for refusing to defend the executive order in court. On Feb. 3, a U.S. District Court in Washington State “issued a temporary restraining order which prohibits the federal government from enforcing parts of the Executive Order that banned travel by “non-immigrants” and “immigrants” 2 from the 7 countries. Significantly, the temporary order also allows for refugees to enter, including those from Syria.

Arguments were quickly presented to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to a panel of three judges, who CCR’s Executive Director applauded for upholding the block on the Muslim Ban on February 9th. At this point, there are many possibilities as to what might come next, and it is not clear what that might be.

It all feels like a bad dream. Yet, in other ways this executive order feels like simply a more blatant way in which Muslim and “minority” communities have been under attack for decades and even centuries in the U.S.

This isn’t new
On Feb. 19 of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which was the preamble to Japanese Internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. The order and the sentiment presumed that any person of Japanese descent could be a spy, especially after the surprise attack on U.S. troops by Japanese nationals at Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941.

After 9/11 and in light of Trump’s Muslim Ban, Japanese American community members who have reached out to stand in solidarity with Muslim community. “Let it never happen again” is a mantra that has been repeated throughout history by a Japanese American community who experienced or whose family experienced the internment camps. In 2009, in an annual pilgrimage to the former internment camp Minidoka, I learned that immediately after the end of internment in the mid-1940’s, there was a prevailing sentiment of needing to prove one’s “Americanness” by throwing away all ties to Japanese heritage and culture, such as family heirlooms and “becoming American.” CCR recently joined “Day of Remembrance” events in New York City, including a panel discussion with Imams 3 and civil rights leaders and an interactive art exhibit with art from former Japanese internees and a man held in Guantanamo Bay prison for 15 years without charge or trial before being released a few days before Trump’s inauguration.

After 9/11, CCR brought a broad range of litigation challenges to combat the Islamophobic policies that President George W. Bush and his administration built. One of those challenges was our Ziglar v. Abbasi case, which, after 15 years, made it to the Supreme Court to be the last case argued under the Obama administration. The case had been filed in 2002 on behalf of Muslim, Arab and South Asian immigrants who were rounded up and detained and deported after 9/11 because they were Muslim or perceived to be Muslim. The goal of the case was to hold high-level Bush officials accountable for racial and religious profiling. We are currently waiting for the court to release their opinion about the case.

Another notable case is our Hassan v. City of New York case about suspicionless surveillance by the New York City Police Department of Muslims in New Jersey (a different state than New York) , which was filed after media stories broke about the surveillance program of the NYPD. Our plaintiffs and many members of the Muslim community throughout the U.S. have spoken about the chilling effect of surveillance overall, and the ramifications on their religious identity.

There are hundreds of other litigation and advocacy cases that reveal the impact of post 9/11 fear-mongering and targeting of Muslim communities. Their impact reaches beyond courtrooms and the individuals rounded up, detained and deported.

Building a sustainable resistance
It is important to note that folks were being detained and questioned at airports, subjected to additional security screenings, put on no-fly lists for invalid reasons, subject to deportations after arrival into the U.S., and delayed visa approval processes before Trump’s Muslim Ban was signed a few weeks ago. The distinction is simply that previously those orders were enacted discreetly or without widespread protest in opposition. Former presidents did not campaign on hatred as explicitly as Trump did. So, the masses often went about their daily lives blissfully unaware that the lives of people in their town or city’s airports were being permanently altered in horrendous ways.

We are now in a moment where not only masses of people within the U.S. are aware, but people in most parts of the world are aware and paying close attention to what is happening here. While we have people’s attention, we must think about how to build a sustainable resistance to Trump’s policies. My community and I are already preparing for when Trump goes beyond the Muslim community and those perceived to be a part of it and begins to target poor communities, LGBTIQ communities, Black communities, im/migrants, disabled folks, and many more. Many fear being next which is exactly what Trump wants.

Trump wants communities to be fearful and to self-deport, police each other, be on edge and take out the pain and frustration of fear out on each other in order to create chaos within communities. His administration of white supremacists wants to empower officials – Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Department of Homeland Security agents, police and even vigilantes – to abuse their authority with his policies.

But we can counter their hate, with a resistance movement built on love and truth. We at CCR understand that things like the Constitution and litigation are tools we utilize to do storytelling, and most of all we must depend on the masses, on people to come together and have real dialogue about the moment we are in, to build creative media, art, campaigns, engage in civil disobedience, organize and attend rallies, and more.

The fact remains that there are communities who were most vulnerable to violence before Trump was elected, and that has not changed. Those communities are black, Muslim, queer, trans and gender non-conforming, sex workers, disabled folks, immigrants, homeless folks, young people and poor people. We must remember that there are community members who exist at the intersections of those identities whose vulnerability is more complicated and whose voice and expertise on their experience must be listened to. It is those communities who we need to take the lead from, provide resources to, build with, and show general allyship to.

As a person located in diaspora, I am always thinking about Korea and ways in which cultural attitudes and policies are exported to my homeland. Part of what keeps me grounded is in knowing that our struggles are connected and that by fighting the hatred of the Trump administration and all of his supporters, I am also fighting for my people to not have this policy impact at home. Those of us in this movement often recite a mantra 4 by freedom fighter and Black Panther Assata Shakur:

“It is our duty to fight for freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and protect each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Notes:

  1. The part ordering actions that would immediately impact people at the airport such as deportations and detainment was blocked; visa and application appointment cancellations continued.
  2. Source: Urban Justice Center International Refugee Assistance Project Know Your Rights document updated February 4, 2017. Most updated version here.
  3. Imam refers to Muslim leaders.
  4. The original poem uses “support” instead of “protect”; within movement we engage in a practice called community security which means putting our bodies between protesters and police officers to protect our community. This practice comes from the belief of self-determination inherent in community members to be able to protest without having to worry about being policed as they do so.

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