It's been a little over a year since President Donald Trump first attempted to ban the nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries. In that time, Muslim Americans of all backgrounds—not just from the countries named in Trump's executive orders—have expressed heightened fears about their rights to move freely in and out of the United States. Many have been detained and interrogated by border agents without access to attorneys or anyone on the outside of the holding facility. Still, that anxiety persists: With the Supreme Court expected to take up the administration's third travel ban attempt in April, immigrant rights advocates have released a composite sketch—data on calls received from travelers—detailing how the ban's three separate iterations have worked to inhibit the free movement of American and foreign Muslims.
The past two iterations of the travel ban modified the countries whose citizens were barred from entry; in the third, which the Supreme Court allowed in December to go into effect pending judicial review, the administration also barred North Koreans and Venezuelan officials from entry. But advocates claim that amounts to a thinly veiled attempt to support the Trump administration's arguments that the bans do not target Muslims.
A recent report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that a vast majority of the nearly 300 calls made to the California chapter of CAIR in the last year came from people concerned about possible rights infringements during travel.
Nearly 30 percent of callers were worried they might face some difficulty with Customs and Border Patrol agents. Past run-ins with CPB agents have involved interrogations in secondary holding facilities in American airports, without access granted to third-party observers or legal counsel. Farida Chehata, the author of the CAIR report and an attorney at CAIR's Los Angeles branch, says there's very little government oversight of agents in these airport facilities.
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"Even the report itself can't fully depict what's going on and what impact it's had on people," Chehata tells Pacific Standard. "Newly married couples can't be together. A son can't have his father who is almost blind come stay with him in the United States."
Chehata's report found that "the unpredictability, complexity, and confusion surrounding the many iterations of the Muslim Bans have confounded legal professionals, immigration experts, U.S. citizens, and foreign nationals alike."
Immediately following the first executive order, scenes of pandemonium broke out at international airports across the country as people waited hours and sometimes days for relatives and friends to be released from detention. Many of those detained for questioning by officials were Christians and other non-Muslim Arabs and Middle Easterners who experienced more frequent racial profiling than usual.
Chehata's CAIR report offers several echelons of context for the travel bans. A timeline in the report, entitled "History of Discriminatory Federal Immigration Policies," situates the travel bans among several other historical instances in which the U.S. government has targeted a specific immigrant community. It begins with the Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882 that aimed to halt Chinese immigration to the U.S., as a means, historians say, of quelling popular anger over heightened unemployment that historians argue had little to do with Chinese immigrants. It notes the Mexican Repatriation, where, beginning in 1929, the U.S. deported large swaths of Mexican-American communities—including many U.S. citizens. The timeline then jumps to Japanese Internment, the period during World War II that saw hundreds of thousands of Americans of Japanese origin incarcerated at camps across the Western U.S., all under the guise of national security.
But the timeline is mostly populated by examples from the modern day, including Trump's decision in September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a centerpiece of predecessor Barack Obama's immigration legislation. For Chehata, situating Trump's attempts to ban Muslims in its historical and modern-day context is key to the rest of America understanding the implications of the ban. "We're hoping that it's something that will provide knowledge and insight about what motivated the iterations of the Muslim ban and give a broader context that discrimination against Muslims has been going on much longer than this administration," she says. "Our only hope is to work with legislative officials to work toward more oversight of government agencies that impact people's lives."