Column – Battling the Muslim Ban

The following column by Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, ran in the Open Society Voices Blog on December 27, 2017.
Click here to read it on the Open Society Voices Blog website.

Too often, in the pitched battles over the Trump Administration’s so-called Muslim ban, we fail to hear the voices of the people most affected by it.

One of them was born in Maryland. She met her fiancé while traveling through Iran seven years ago and later submitted a visa application on his behalf. The application was received by the federal government on Valentine’s Day—nearly a year ago—but has yet to be approved.

Now, the Administration’s Muslim ban may bar him from entry, separating the couple indefinitely. In her words, “We have both been distraught since finding out about the ban. If my fiancé’s visa is not granted, we will be completely devastated. … This will tear us apart, and we are already devastated just thinking about it.”

Another affected person is a 79-year-old Maryland resident, and lawful permanent resident, who is wheelchair-bound due to various health complications. Her 90-year-old husband has balance issues and falls if he walks alone. They desperately need the help of their son, who is stuck in Iran.

His visa application is currently pending, but the Muslim ban may stop it from being officially issued. “I have been extremely anxious, sad, and worried,” she explains. “I am afraid that I will never be able to see my son. I am afraid that he will not be able to come and be with his elderly parents. This causes me great pain and suffering on a daily basis.”

These are just two of the plaintiffs in Iranian Alliances Across Borders v. Trump, a group of people who are either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents but fear retaliation if they go public with their names.

Their struggle is part of an ongoing battle, which began with the Trump Administration’s first attempt in early 2017 to ban travel from a group of majority-Muslim countries. The precise scope of the ban has changed since, but it remains unconstitutional and discriminatory—and American Muslims, as well as immigrant and refugee communities, have been fearlessly and courageously waging a tough, expansive battle against the ban all year.

With each and every court decision, from Hawaii to Maryland, and with each and every appeal by the federal government, Muslim Advocates has been fighting this discriminatory ban every step of the way, with countless allies and advocates—including state attorneys general and top law firms—by our side.

The latest turn in this battle came in early December, when the Supreme Court unblocked the third version of the Muslim ban executive order—“Muslim Ban 3.0”—allowing it to go into effect until several legal challenges currently pending before two federal appeals courts are ultimately resolved. Among those cases is Iranian Alliances Across Borders v. Trump, the first case against Muslim Ban 3.0.

Muslim Advocates filed this case, along with cocounsel from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Covington & Burling LLP, and in consultation with the National Iranian American Council. We are representing six John and Jane Doe clients along with Iranian Alliances Across Borders, an Iranian American diaspora community organization, and Iranian Students Foundation, an IAAB affiliate at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Thankfully, we have had some success. Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a ruling that blocked the Trump administration from implementing Muslim Ban 3.0. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court later allowed the ban to temporarily go into effect—separating families and hurting U.S. citizens. So we are back in court and still fighting; we will not give up.

Over the past two years, through the 2016 campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency, we have seen an unprecedented rise in hate crimes, a tidal wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric across social media platforms, and animosity perverting our workforce and daily lives.  Trump’s rhetoric, vile tweets, and propagation of false narratives have brought bigoted voices out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

This is why our battle is not single-pronged. As we continue to press our case in the courts, we are also working to remove anti-Muslim bigots from the administration. And we continue to strive to win hearts and minds and ensure that the voices of impacted people are heard in every community and every hall of power in the country.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first Muslim ban, I am reminded of the power of the people swarming our nation’s airports and making their voices heard. I am reminded of the power of courageous public officials like then-acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates and state attorneys general in Hawaii, New York, and Washington, who were willing to stand up to the president of the United States.

In the months ahead, we will continue to need ordinary Americans willing to stand up and take extraordinary action. Together, we will not allow the president to enshrine religious bigotry into law. Together, we will win.

Muslim Advocates is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations.