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.