Sunday 25 February 2018

Tweeter Trump's capital rage won't calm chaos caused by ban

President Donald Trump (AP/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump (AP/Evan Vucci)

Gina London

The Tweeter-in-Chief was clearly miffed as he blasted a response to the federal appeals court's unanimous ruling against his immigration ban in ALL CAPS: "SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!"

But then, at last Friday's press briefing with the Japanese PM standing alongside, US President Donald Trump suggested his regime was not going to wait for the Supreme Court to take up the matter.

"We'll be doing something very rapidly, having to do with additional security for our country. You'll be seeing that sometime next week."

Don't wait. Do something. Quick. The staccato beat of Executives Orders will continue as those impacted continue to try to make sense of it all.

"Suddenly everything is critical. It's a chaotic situation. It is extremely frustrating," says Dr Haleh Esfandiari, the founding director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington.

Iranian by birth, Haleh fled to the United States 37 years ago during the Iranian Revolution. She knows what it is like to be an immigrant and a refugee.

"This business of judging people by their religion," she begins, referring the White House's so-called Muslim Ban, but then, she shifts to reflecting upon her own situation in 1979, when her home country was forced into an Islamic republic by the Ayatollah Khomeini, "we came to this country because we didn't want to be judged by religion."

"The people today are offended and they have every right to be offended.

"The ban is simply chaotic and not thought through. First, they said everyone from the seven countries were banned. Then there were protests and they said the green-card holders could come. Then they said Christian Syrians could come in. Then they said minorities. But the Shia Islamic sect, for example, are minorities in some countries and not in other countries. So, what does this all mean?"

It means, as the three federal appeal judges pointed out this past week, Trump's executive order banning people from seven majority-Muslim counties and nearly all refugees from entering the US, is "reviewable". The notion of "review," as former US acting attorney-general Sally Yates discovered after she was fired for disagreeing with the ban, is not something the Trump White House is open to.

During the hearing on Tuesday, in fact, one of the Judges from the Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Michelle Friedland, specifically queried, "Are you arguing that the president's decision is not reviewable?" Eventually, after the question was asked a number of times, August Flentje, the attorney who was presenting for the Administration, admitted it. "Yes."

I found that exchange, as I listened to an audio version of the hearing, incredible. That the president could claim "national safety" and a need for "extreme vetting" and then sign an order that instils chaos and confusion without first getting extreme vetting from the judicial department seemed a thin stance to me.

However, as I researched this, I learned that US immigration law does allow the president to make independent decisions when the country is in danger.

So then, the three judges who decided against the ban, clearly decided not to take this president's word that the country is in danger nor that his executive order does not discriminate against Muslims.

At last Friday's press conference, Trump predicted victory claiming, "Ultimately, I have no doubt, we'll win that particular case."

So will the US supreme court - with or without president Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch to tip the current four-to-four balance - decide the matter once and for all? What will the "rapid something" that Trump is promising next week turn out to be?

I can't answer either one of those questions now. Yet as Haleh sums up, "We are at our wits end. It needs to be sorted out."

Article six of the US constitution refers to "no religious test." For now.

Gina London is an award-winning US journalist who is now living in Ireland.

Sunday Independent

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