Yale professor unsure whether legal challenges against Trump travel ban will succeed

The Tufts Muslim Student’s Association (MSA) hosted an event titled “The Muslim Ban: Histories of Exclusion, Practices of Resistance,” featuring Yale Clinical Professor of Law Muneer Ahmad in the Crane Room on Thursday evening.

Tufts Associate Professor of Political Science Natalie Masuoka opened the event by introducing Ahmad and by describing how the event connected to a broader American political landscape.

“Unfortunately, recent events suggest that Americans need a reminder of our history,” Masuoka said.

Ahmad began his lecture by contextualizing President Donald Trump’s executive order that seeks to bar immigration from six predominantly-Muslim countries within the long history of racially-prejudiced policies in the United States. The ban is currently not enforced because it was blocked by a District Judge in Hawaii.

“It is a story that is still being written as the Muslim ban unfolds,” Ahmad said. “The Muslim ban is a contemporary event, but it is inseparable from racial exclusion.”

Ahmad further noted that the United States has historically conflated Islam with terrorism, even before the Sept. 11 attacks. He believes this sort of conflation is harmful to both immigrants and American society.

Ahmad explained that he and some of his Yale students worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to get Iraqi interpreter Hameed Darweesh released from John F. Kennedy International Airport after Darweesh and several other people were detained because of Trump’s executive order. Darweesh was eventually released the day following the implementation of the ban, according to Ahmad.

Though Ahmad noted that the courts were fundamental in securing Darweesh’s release and, more generally, in fighting the executive order, Ahmad added that the protests that erupted at JFK Airport and at other airports across the nation prompted many courts to take the executive order and its consequences more seriously.

“What we have seen is the court stepping in, but they have been prompted to do so … by thousands of people around the country,” he said. “Mobilization of non-lawyers … is essential for the legal work to happen. The judge deciding the case understands that people are watching and that it is consequential.”

Ahmad explained the contents of Trump’s first executive order, including a temporary travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries, a 120-day moratorium on the refugee settlement program as a whole, the indefinite suspension of the Syrian refugee program specifically and the reduction in the cap number of refugees admitted into the United States.

Ahmad also pointed out that the initial order carved out a preference for religious minorities in those countries, which he said was effectively an attempt to prioritize Christians over Muslims based on comments Trump made in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview. He also said that visa and green card holders were originally thought to be affected by the order, but that changed when the White House later stated publicly that they were exempted from deportation.

After the initial ban was blocked by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Ahmad said the Trump administration tried to craft a new order that hid religious preference and excluded green card holders and visa holders from deportation. Ahmad said that even though the new order is watered down on the surface, it is still viewed by the courts as similarly discriminatory.

“Once you have rung the bell of religious discrimination as loudly as you have in this case, you can’t get rid of it,” he said. “We see it for what it is. That’s why the legal challenges of [executive order] 2.0 are having the same success.”

Even though Ahmad said that the current legal challenges against Trump’s second immigration order have been successful, he is unsure about what conclusion the courts will ultimately make.

“The legal issues are hard,” he said. “Public engagement matters in the meantime.”

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