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Now that Biden has repealed Trump’s racist travel ban, he should target other discriminatory policies.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

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.