The following is an excerpt from a Daily Kos piece, originally published on April 6, 2020.
One week into his presidency Donald Trump put in place a policy in keeping with the “total and complete” ban of Muslims he had proposed during the campaign. With little warning, Trump signed an executive order banning all immigration for ninety days from seven majority - Muslim nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani advised Trump that to pass constitutional muster the ban could not make reference to religion, but it could make reference to geography. So Trump and his supporters tried to avoid religious references in defending their travel ban.
The executive order, titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” was confusing and inconsistent. At the signing, Trump invoked 9/11 and suggested that keeping out people from these seven countries was vital to prevent another such attack. He began with a reference to terrorists, but also acknowledged that there could be people who support and love the United States.
Even more confusing, the statement made reference to the 9/11 attack, but none of the 9/11 attackers had come from any of the countries Trump wanted to ban. The majority of them were from Saudi Arabia. What’s more, Iraq was on the list and Iraq was our ally in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. had thousands of troops stationed in that country, coordinating with Iraqis.
Several states and organizations sued, and judges across the country began to rule on the legality of the ban. The first ruling was from a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York, which includes JFK Airport. He forbade the government from keeping out people from the banned countries who had legitimate visas.
Several days after the ban went into effect, the Acting Attorney General of the United States directed members of the Justice Department to not defend the ban in court. Sally Yates wrote that she considered the ban unconstitutional and unlawful:
“Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”
The president promptly fired Yates. In a statement the White House said,
“The acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States… Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country. Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms. Yates of her duties.”
Yates had not objected to tougher vetting. Vetting is a comprehensive assessment of an individual. The executive order prohibited all people of a particular national origin from entering while the appropriate government agencies figured out how to do stronger vetting.
Trump conflated vetting and the ban when he fired Yates and afterwards. So did White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer:
“It’s not a travel ban. It’s a vetting system to keep America safe – that’s it, plain andsimple. And all of the facts and a reading of it clearly show that that’s what it is.”
The president weighed in with a tweet:
“Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!”
The Department of Homeland Security, which administered the travel ban, initially said that the ban included permanent residents in the United States from the seven named countries. It even revoked the green cards of a number of green card holders trying to re-enter the country.
On February 1, the executive order was amended to exclude lawful permanent residents from the ban.
That same day a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary yet far-reaching restraining order that applied to the whole nation, suspending the travel ban completely.
President Trump published a number of tweets attacking the judge, including:
“Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision.”
The federal government appealed, claiming that the judge had no jurisdiction to rule on the validity of an executive order. The president tweeted:
“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”
Th judge’s life was threatened in the days immediately following this tweet.
A number of former Obama Administration national security experts, including former secretaries of state and defense and former heads of intelligence agencies, filed a motion with the appellate court reviewing the government’s appeal, saying they were unaware of any specific threat that would justify the travel ban, and that the executive order undermined the safety of the United States.
Since 9/11, they said, not a single terrorist attack in the U.S. was committed by someone from one of the seven named countries. They wrote,
“The overwhelming majority of attacks have been committed by US citizens”
They concluded that although the executive order, on its face, was meant to prevent acts of terrorism, it was in fact about group identity and religion, and was ‘beneath the dignity” of the nation and Constitution.