Revolution Speaks with Two Attorneys Fighting Trump's Muslim Ban 2.0:
“Rhetoric Coming from the Administration… Is Really Making It Difficult To Be Muslim Right Now in This Country”
March 15, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Ryan Houldin,Civil Rights Attorney at Philadelphia CAIR:
Shortly before a Federal Court in Hawai’i temporarily blocked the implementation of the Trump/Pence regime’s Muslim Ban 2.0, Revolution spoke with Ryan Houldin, a civil rights attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Philadelphia. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Revolution:What can you tell us about what is being argued in court in opposition to this ban?
Ryan Houldin: So, I can fill you in a little bit but there’s also specific immigration law issues that are being litigated which I’m not able to comment on because we don’t handle immigration. But, in terms of more general, constitutional challenges, the first lawsuit brought about different claims because of what happened. There were a lot of people who actually were granted a lawful visa from the state, they got here and they were turned away. That is really a violation of due process, and the Second Amendment. You know, you can’t deny somebody a right without some kind of hearing, and you can’t just have custom agents on the spot just saying that this visa is no longer valid, see you later. And send them back on the plane. That’s clearly unconstitutional. So that’s a procedural due process claim that was in the first complaint in most of these lawsuits, that will likely not be in the second one because of some of the amendments that they made to it.
The revision to the Muslim ban clearly has been significantly revised to the point where I think it does signal a pretty significant victory for the people who are opposing the Muslim ban, because they realized it had a very low likelihood of surviving court scrutiny. So we anticipated that probably won’t be an issue at this point because the revised ban is validating visas that were issued up until this point. So that claim was in the first lawsuit and will likely not be challenged if they actually apply the law as they’ve written it this time around.
Then there are other issues as well. So equal protection claims from the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment. That will, I’m sure, be in these claims because the whole point of this ban is to target people specifically based on their national origin and their religion. And so that comes into, that’s obviously an equal protection violation because people from other countries aren’t being targeted as the six countries in this new revised ban.
And there’s also a First Amendment claim, which was present in the first lawsuits, and I’m sure will also be again. It’s a violation of the establishment clause because according to the First Amendment the government cannot sponsor or cannot favor one religion over the other, and that’s exactly what this ban is doing because it’s clearly targeted for Muslims, despite them taking out the more overt discriminatory language from the first one. They removed that mostly from the second one but it doesn’t change the intent behind it.
Revolution: I’d like to follow up with a couple questions, one on intent and one on impact. On intent, there’s the obvious documentation that, first, Trump said during the campaign: I want the ban on all Muslims coming into the United States. Then there were the statements by Rudy Giuliani that Trump called him up and said, I want a Muslim ban but I want it legal, and then Giuliani was involved in essentially disguising a Muslim ban, but not very much disguised. All indications are that this current ban is a continuation of the original one, in intent and background, to single out a religious group for special persecution.
Ryan Houldin: Yeah, I mean, we couldn’t agree more. I think that it’s pretty silly and elementary to think that just taking out the overtly discriminatory language in the first Muslim ban all of a sudden erases everything that’s happened before that; as you said, Trump’s campaign rhetoric for over a year was this exact thing, to prevent Muslims from coming into this country. In his first couple of months in office, he is now taking steps to actually turn that campaign promise into a reality. And you don’t need to dig very deep to understand his position on this and what the actual intent is, not only from Trump himself but virtually everybody in his administration who has some kind of authority or persuasion. I mean, Stephen Miller himself had said, that’s another sticking point for the second ban, and what I think a lot of people are going to argue in court is that people who actually have helped draft this, who have explicitly gone on news stations and publicly said that this new ban is not changing the intent or the policy behind the first one. It’s just gonna be dressed up in less discriminatory language.
Revolution: Let’s talk about the objective impact of this. It seems this ban will actually have three objective effects. One is that it will establish in public opinion that Muslim immigrants, legal Muslim immigrants, with visas, coming from countries like Somalia or Iran, pose a terrorist threat to Americans, contributing to an atmosphere of xenophobia. Second, this will embolden more violent anti-Muslim hatred. And, third, it will make Muslims feel like a pariah-ized section of the population. Is this part of the legal challenge?
Ryan Houldin: Well, so your first issue would be the objectives, the three things that you stated: I don’t think they are in question at this point. I couldn’t agree more. We have a report from the Department of Homeland Security who literally is a group that is entrusted to protect us, an administrative report to Trump and the administration, that a person’s place of birth or citizenship is not a reliable factor for committing a terrorist act. So they have completely debunked the entire basis for this order. So I agree with that 100 percent and it’s fairly irrefutable at this point. The problem is, as we’ve been seeing over the past year or so, and during Trump’s rise, is that anything that he says is taken as truth by his loyal base. And that is involving people to become much more vocal and much more, I guess, involved to either verbally attack people, and/or physically attack people of differing races, of differing national origins. I mean, there’s been a huge spike in hate crimes against Muslims, against Jewish people. There’s all kinds of reports being disseminated across the country, with schools, with kids drawing swastikas on the bathroom wall, and racial epithets, and people’s cars being marked up with racial graffiti. I mean, this is a huge problem that is clearly directly linked to Trump’s rhetoric, and to his actions, and I think that that is a very serious problem that we as a country have to come to grips with.
As to whether or not these issues can be used in court, I think the second issue, there’s not much relevance to it, in my opinion. But as to the first one, absolutely, because Trump and the administration is claiming that this ban is actually needed to further our national security. But when you have the Department of Homeland Security refuting that claim, that really takes a lot of the wind out of sails when we ask the question, “What’s the point of this ban? Is it really gonna make us safer?” We have an actual government entity saying, “No! It’s not gonna make us safer.” So even if you were to look past the discrimination of the Muslim ban, then you have to get into the efficacy of it. I mean, just on its face, it’s not gonna be effective to keeping us safe. And we have the DHS saying no, it’s not. So that’s certainly going to be useful fodder for the attorneys opposing this ban.
Revolution: Let’s return to the impact on Muslim Americans living in the United States. Even if they’re not even immigrants. There are well-publicized incident where Mohammad Ali’s son, for example, was stopped twice by immigration agents and he is a U.S.-born citizen.
Ryan Houldin: Yes. We are getting a lot of calls from Muslim community members here. I know CAIR chapters around the country are as well. I mean, this is having a profoundly negative effect on Muslims living in this country regardless of their legal status here. And so, we’re seeing a lot of problems, just like that. We’re seeing border agents detaining people for 5-6 hours, asking them personal questions about their religious beliefs, where they pray, how many times a day they pray, are they Sunni, are they Shi’a, where do they go to pray, what are the sermons about, what are their views on Donald Trump, what are their views on ISIS. These are completely inappropriate questions for CVP agents to be asking people when they come into the country. The only questions they can and should be asking are questions directly related to their travels. Outside of that, those questions should not be asked. We are consistently seeing them flaunt that law. They’re completely ignoring protocol, and going way beyond what they’re supposed to be doing. And unfortunately, that’s the tip of the iceberg. We’re getting reports that FBI agents are coming to people’s homes who are perfectly law-abiding citizens, and they’re wanting to go on investigating, and go on fishing expeditions.
I just got a call today from somebody who was a victim of a hate crime last night when some guy came out of his pick-up truck and started yelling go back to your country, and began hitting him. So this is very real. And the Muslim community is oppressed, targeted, and terrified, and we are trying to work to combat those kinds of things. But the rhetoric coming from the administration, their policy, plans, is really making it difficult to be Muslim right now in this country.
A: Thanks so much Ryan.
Matt Adams: Legal Director, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
Matt Adams is the Legal Director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which was the litigant in one of several federal court challenges to Trump’s ban the day before it was go to into effect. Revolution spoke with Matt Adams just after he argued in federal court in Washington State against the ban, and immediately after a Federal Court in Hawai’i placed a temporary restraining order on implementing the ban. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
Revolution: Can you fill us in in on the significance of the federal court ruling in Hawai’i? Can this be overturned by other rulings coming in tonight?
Matt Adams: No, other rulings would not affect that, so it’s all good news, nationwide, and it covers the primary sections that we’ve been focused on in the Executive Order. Now what that will mean for the other orders that are still pending in Maryland, and here in Washington State, is unclear. The judge could say, well now there’s no need for me to take action in light of that. And then I would expect all of the cases to kind of move forward to the next phase of litigation.
Revolution: Stepping back a bit to the original ban and its follow-up: This was a move to create an atmosphere of irrational hatred and fear of Muslim immigrants. And not just Muslims coming to this country. It has had a very bad impact, already, right?
Matt Adams: Let me respond to the latter first. I think that’s absolutely true. I think that we’ve tried to make that point in our briefing, and I’ve seen it in other briefings, where we are talking about what is the effect of these Executive Orders. And that is for the government basically to disparage a people, a religion and to make them defensive, that they must change their conduct in order to be accepted by America, or change who they are, or that they’re basically outsiders. And you know, of course these Executive Orders are focused on immigrants, but I think it also sends a message of what the president’s values are, and that’s inevitably going to have an impact, whether you’re an immigrant, or a U.S. citizen of how you feel and what your place in our democracy is.
Revolution: So let’s go back to your organization’s involvement in challenging this ban. You are one of the litigants in the Washington case, right?
Matt Adams: Right. So there are two parallel Washington cases going on. We have a case that we filed on behalf of individual plaintiffs and on behalf of a nationwide class. And then the state of Washington has filed their own case, and both those cases are before the same judge.
Revolution: Did you argue those cases today?
Matt Adams: Yeah. So I argued our motion for a temporary restraining order today on our behalf. And then the judge didn’t issue an order yet. He said he needed to go back and review the record before he made his decision. And of course in the meantime, then, the decision has come out of Hawai’i which has provided this instant temporary relief, for people across the country. So we already have some good news, and then we’ll see how both our judge and other courts react to motions for a temporary restraining order in light of what Hawai’i has done.
Revolution: Let’s go back to the basis for your challenge to the ban. You alluded to the fact that you are representing people who would be harmed by this ban. Can you expand on that?
Matt Adams: Sure. So we are representing four petitioners. There are two U.S. citizens, and two lawful permanent residents, and their six family members, who have already filed visa petitions that were approved, and so family members are now in the process of going through the Consular Visa Approval process. One lawful permanent resident filed on behalf of his wife, and then the other petitioners are all filing petitions on behalf of their children who are outside the country.
And their arguments are that the executive has no authority to discriminate against people on the basis of their country, their nationality, or their religion. And that’s precisely what this Executive Order does. It says that these people are temporarily suspended from going forward in the process and that if they want to move forward, they have to try to get some ill-defined waiver. And again, we think that this is a thin shill for the Trump administration anti-Muslim campaign promise that they are making good on to their anti-immigrant supporters, and we think that it inherently violates not just the constitutional protection that says we all should receive protection under the law, but also the Immigration Nationality Act itself which has an anti-discrimination provision, which explicitly says that when you’re issuing immigrant visas, you should not discriminate, or you cannot discriminate on the basis of race, sex, national origin, or country of birth. And that’s precisely what they are doing here.
Revolution: Now as I understand it, you and your organization are both legal activists, but also advocates for immigrants, and I want to return to the point that you made about the impact that this will have on some of the hardcore Trump supporters, because there has been an increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and other immigrants, and I was wondering if you had some thoughts on this ban, and the rhetoric, and the supposed logic behind it.
Matt Adams: Yeah, absolutely. I mean at times, to be honest, I wonder whether President Trump even cares whether his Executive Orders will be upheld or whether he cares whether they're in compliance with the Constitution. I think his agenda is to throw some red meat to his anti-immigrant supporters, and say look, here we are, we're working on behalf of you. And the results of this have been pretty traumatic. We see across the country, increases of hate crimes, and whether it's churches, or synagogues, or mosques are being graffitied, or other damage, or people being attacked. And you know it's not just limited to immigrants. Even here in Seattle, just last week, we had a synagogue that was vandalized. And we're seeing more and more of this. And what it is I think the endorsement of the president has emboldened the racist elements of our society to come out of the woodwork as it were, and make them think that it's okay what they believe and what they advocate for.
Revolution: And then maybe we could just talk for a moment about what this means for the lives of people who are being demonized and targeted in a way, both formally through legal discrimination and oppression, and also what you’re talking about, a climate of terror, really, for sections of people.
Matt Adams: Right. So I mean, I think on the one hand, we have a very direct impact especially now on the immigrant communities, who are under the microscope, and under the gun so to speak from the administration who are both targeting them and denying them the ability to move forward with legal immigrant visa processing. And upping the rhetoric as far as anti-immigration in general, making all immigrants, even those who are already here lawfully, feel like they are less a part of our community. And I think what that’s doing is undermining our democracy. It’s dividing up and playing into the “other,” that some people are not like us, and that this country is for us and not for them. And then again, I think that this has a broader impact not just with the immigrant community and their family members, but also to the society in general, whether it’s people of color, or LGBT, there’s so many different groups. Like is that what our democracy is pitted up against, now with Donald Trump, is trying to assert the rights of the individual, of those who have a history of oppression and fighting back against their historic oppressor, who feels his grip on society loosening.
Revolution: History has taught us some horrific lessons about where that can go.
Matt Adams: Absolutely.
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