Muslim Ban hearing came and went. What now?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—“Impeachment” and “Whistleblower” might be the hip words tossed around by media types and beltway insiders during this first week of fall but religion was at the center of Capitol Hill’s attention for a full three hours on Sept. 24, as the House of Representatives heard testimony in the first-ever public hearing on Pres. Donald J. Trump’s travel ban.

Islam – reading in between the lines and based upon legal interpretations – fit squarely in the crosshairs of Trump’s travel ban, giving the Sept. 24 hearing substantial weight.  Congressional hearings on Muslim and Muslim American issues are a rarity – House members convened its Sept. 24 travel ban hearings almost three years after Trump implemented his policy targeting immigrants from Islamic countries. Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, stated the Sept. 24 hearing’s focus on a Muslim-specific issue was the first-ever of its type.

Rep. Max Rose Twitter photo

Rep. Max Rose Twitter photo

The hearing’s intent: explore all avenue to reverse Trump’s travel ban, which, according to testimony, has had a real effect upon thousands of individuals and families from Muslim majority countries.

Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, introduced the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act – or NO BAN Act – in April. The bill, introduced in a Democrat-majority House, proposes to reverse Trump’s travel ban – but those who closely follow all things within the beltway predict the NO BAN Act would never make it out of the U.S. Senate, let alone be signed by the President.

So let’s beg the question: where do we go from here? The travel ban hearing was a necessary event – we need to have a conversation about the intersection of religious freedoms and public policy at the highest of levels. Vetting out the effects of the travel ban and giving a voice to those directly harmed by Trump’s policy served as a great starting point. It would be naïve to believe, just the same, the hearing was the latest move in a series of events leading to demise of Trump’s travel ban.

Muslim Advocates Twitter photo

Muslim Advocates Twitter photo

The Supreme Court, in case you missed it, already reviewed Trump’s travel ban. Justices, in a 5-4 vote, recently upheld the ban after the Trump administration added two non-Muslim countries (North Korea and Venezuela) whose people were prohibited from entering the United States. (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are the other five countries listed on the Supreme Court approved travel ban.)

Two previous version of Trump’s travel ban was shot down in federal court. Each legal rejection was based upon Trump’s talking points during his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump insisted his executive order banning travel into the United States from a list of Islamic countries did not function as a Muslim Ban. Presidential candidate Trump, however, promised to ban Muslims from entering the United States. The courts used Trump’s campaign promise to establish his travel ban, which was implemented almost as soon as he took office, carried the intent of keeping Muslims out of the country.

The travel ban might still be functioning as a Muslim ban, based upon data presented by the State Department. Trump’s travel ban reportedly kept as many as 31,000 people were reportedly kept out of the United States. Less than 6 percent of visa applicants were granted a waiver during the first year of the ban, according to a separate State Department report published in February.

Context for these numbers are still being analyzed. Are these numbers par for the course? Or did the number of waivers and/or rejections dramatically spike upwards as a result of the travel ban?

Of course there are those who either support a ban on Muslim entry into the United States or view Trump’s travel ban as an honest policy, implemented in the name of national security.

One person on Twitter, replying to a Sept. 24 tweet by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, ahead of the House’s public hearing questioned whether Islam even qualifies as a religion.

“We do not want Islam here. They are not a religion or cult. Islam is a political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest,” the tweet, written by “Gabaree” (@Gabaree19), said. “They stand for hate and violence. They do not want to be part of our traditional values and way of life.”

Omar, who is a Muslim, applauded the hearing in a series of tweets on Sept. 24.

“Today’s historic hearing on the Muslim ban matters,” she wrote in her first tweet. “As someone who came here as a refugee from one of the Trump administration’s banned countries, I know how destructive this hateful policy is to people around the world who want to come to American for a better life.”

Her second tweet on the public hearing stated Trump’s travel ban has been harmful to families who have not seen their loved ones in months or years.

“Today, the families who can’t see their loved ones have some accountability,” Omar’s second tweet said.

She added Trump’s policy is “hateful” and must be put “into the dustbin of history.”

The Sept. 24 hearing, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, said in a tweet, was a partisan push to bash Trump. 

“I’m in the #House #Judiciary now. Democrats bashing @realDonaldTrump travel ban on people from #terrorist countries. Guess they forgot that Obama named these countries as terrorist countries too,” Lesko tweeted on Sept. 24.

The effect and intent of Trump’s travel ban will continue to be analyzed as a necessary tool for national security or as an inhumane policy facilitating family separation. 

But what does the conversation look like as the final months of 2019 play out and the next battle for the White House begins in earnest? Will we see another public hearing on the travel ban? What happens if/when the NO BAN Act fails in the U.S. Senate like many have predicted? Would we see a policy reversal should Republicans lose control of the Senate and/or White House in 2021? Or will the Trump, assuming he wins re-election in November 2020, honor his policy’s “temporary” status and rescind the ban on his own accord?

If anything is clear from the Sept. 24 House hearing on the travel ban, it’s both sides expressed their opposition or support of the policy and we have no clear direction of what will happen next.

The Sept. 24 hearing was co-chaired by Reps. Ami Bera, D-California, and Zoe Lofgren, D-California.