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The ‘Muslim Ban’ Is Gone. Now What?

Now that Biden has repealed Trump’s racist travel ban, he should target other discriminatory policies.

January 21, 2021

On his first day in office, Pres­id­ent Joe Biden reversed Donald Trump’s bans on immig­rants from predom­in­antly Muslim and African coun­tries. These were the signa­ture policies behind Trump’s efforts to fulfil his campaign prom­ise of a “Muslim ban” that began just a week into his admin­is­tra­tion. The repeal paves the way for thou­sands of people to be reunited with their loved ones in Amer­ica and is a strong rejec­tion of the overt racial and reli­gious bigotry that defined the Trump pres­id­ency.

It is an import­ant step, but only a first step: the damage stem­ming from the past admin­is­tra­tion’s concer­ted target­ing of immig­rants to Amer­ica over the past four years won’t be undone overnight.

First, the admin­is­tra­tion will need to devote resources and develop a process to address the status of thou­sands of people who are held up in back­logs caused by the addi­tional checks needed to obtain waivers from these bans. And it will need to provide a remedy so that people whose visas were denied because of these bans do not have to start their applic­a­tions from scratch. People who went through a gruel­ing applic­a­tion process replete with inter­views, medical screen­ings, and reams of paper­work should­n’t have to do that all over again. Biden has ordered the State Depart­ment to develop a plan within 45 days to address these issues — whatever emerges should ensure that people affected get relief quickly.

Biden should also reverse other “extreme vetting” meas­ures, which he has ordered reviewed for effect­ive­ness. A notable example is the use of social media to screen trav­el­ers and immig­rants.

The govern­ment’s own tests have already cast doubt on the value of social media review as a screen­ing tool. In 2019, the State Depart­ment relied on the Muslim ban to put in place a require­ment that nearly all those seek­ing U.S. visas list the social media handles they have used over the past five years on their applic­a­tion forms. Trump campaign offi­cials signaled years ago that expan­ded social media screen­ing was to be the Muslim ban’s digital comple­ment to restrict entry to only those who have govern­ment-approved views and beliefs.

Regard­less of the intent, the drag­net policy stifles the exchange of ideas across borders and burdens polit­ical activ­ism in author­it­arian regimes, as a lawsuit filed by the Bren­nan Center and allies chal­len­ging it cata­logs.

To ensure his roll­backs of Trump-era immig­ra­tion initi­at­ives endure, Biden should remain commit­ted to work­ing with Congress to pass the No Ban Act, which would rein in the Immig­ra­tion and Nation­al­ity Act provi­sion the last admin­is­tra­tion used to enact the Muslim ban and a litany of other preju­diced policies. The bill would amend this provi­sion to strengthen its anti-discrim­in­a­tion protec­tions. Further, it would require that future restric­tions be suppor­ted by evid­ence, prop­erly tailored to serve legit­im­ate purposes, and subject to Congres­sional and judi­cial over­sight. The bill has polit­ical back­ing: the No Ban Act passed the House with a bipar­tisan major­ity in July.

Finally, Biden should keep his prom­ises to Muslim and Arab communit­ies that he will reject policies at home that have stig­mat­ized them as terror­ists and shaped the polit­ical climate in which the Muslim ban arose. This is an espe­cially import­ant point as the coun­try grapples with respond­ing to a rise in far-right viol­ence that has led to calls for lawmakers to draw from the “War on Terror” toolkit.

One such initi­at­ive that Biden has commit­ted to ending is the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity’s Targeted Viol­ence and Terror­ism Preven­tion program. It builds on failed Coun­ter­ing Viol­ent Extrem­ism efforts that sought to identify young Amer­ican Muslims who might become terror­ists based on unproven warn­ing signs that cast suspi­cion over consti­tu­tion­ally protec­ted reli­gious prac­tices and polit­ical views. The admin­is­tra­tion should keep this commit­ment and stick to policies that are rooted in proof rather than preju­dice.

The repeal of the Muslim and African bans is a moment to be celeb­rated. Perhaps most import­ant, Biden’s reversal unmis­tak­ably acknow­ledges them as histor­ical wrongs that were born from inten­tional preju­dice, not an error in tech­no­cratic judg­ment.