January 23, 2020

How the Trump Administration has Abused the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to Ban Muslims from the U.S. 

President Trump’s Muslim ban survived judicial review largely due to a favorable interpretation of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which provides the President with authority to limit the entry of aliens. In the majority opinion of the Supreme Court case, Chief Justice Roberts stated that “the President has lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him under [the Immigration and Nationality Act] to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States.” 

In so doing, the Court ignored a clear track record of discriminatory intent from the President as well as numerous legal protections – under both the Constitution and a separate provision of the INA – against discrimination. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor said that the majority was “ignoring the facts, misconstruing our legal precedent, and turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens.” Now, tens of thousands of individuals are barred by the ban every year for no reason other than the President’s bigotry.

Following the travesty of the Supreme Court’s decision, Congress has a chance to clarify that Congress has not given the President a blank check to discriminate. The NO BAN Act (H.R. 2214/S. 1123) would rescind the Muslim ban as well as rectify fatal flaws within the INA that have allowed the Muslim Ban, and other bans, to be implemented. The NO BAN Act, which currently has over 210 cosponsors, is the best way to halt Trump’s discriminatory ban as well as prevent future Presidents from violating civil rights and abusing their authority on discriminatory grounds. 

The Immigration & Nationality Act and the Muslim Ban

  • The INA, passed in 1965, contains a broad, exclusionary provision in Section 212(f) that the Trump administration has used to justify numerous discriminatory policies. 
  • Section 212(f) states that the President may “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens” whenever he or she determines their entry to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” 
  • The original intent of the INA was to do away with the quota system and to usher in a new era of non-discrimination in our immigration system. It included language that barred discrimination on the basis of race, sex, nationality, and place of residence, but not religion. The Supreme Court, in its decision that ultimately upheld the ban, implemented a much broader interpretation of the 212(f) statue that has now endowed the Presidency with near-unfettered authority in its immigration policy. 
  • To date, the Trump administration has used this broadly worded, 54-year old statute, to ban individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries, restrict healthcare for immigrants, and effectively end asylum at the southern border. While the latter two policies have been held up in the courts, the administration’s legal justifications for both have rested once again on the INA and its 212(f) provision. 

The NO BAN Act: Fixing the INA and Repealing the Ban

  • The NO BAN Act achieves two goals: 1) it immediately rescinds the Muslim ban, asylum ban, and refugee ban; and 2) puts in place standards for the authority currently provided by the INA.  
  • In the INA’s current form, the 212(f) statute does not codify what factors determine whether an aliens’ entry is “detrimental” to U.S. interests, what restrictions are “appropriate,” and how long those restrictions should last. These gaps provide broad latitude to a President to mask discriminatory actions under Executive privilege, as Trump has done.
  • The NO BAN Act would remedy these gaps by curtailing the broad and unspecific language in the current law and by requiring the government to meet a more stringent standard in suspending or restricting entry based on “credible facts” and connected to “specific acts” that have actually occurred.  
  • With the NO BAN Act, Congress would also be routinely notified and briefed on the status, implementation, and legal authority for the executive’s actions. It would also expand the INA’s anti-discrimination language by specifically prohibiting religious-based discrimination. 
  • While the ban has been implemented in some form or another for nearly three years, Congress has only held one hearing on its implementation. The NO BAN Act provides greater avenues for oversight by Congress on the use of such authorities in order to hold administrations accountable.
  • The legislation would still allow the President to respond to imminent threats such as disease outbreaks and other events that are legitimate threats to public health and safety, but it guards against blanket bans on ethic, religious, and country-specific groups.
  • Moreover, even prior to the ban, immigrants wishing to come to the United States already went through one of the most exhaustive vetting processes in the world. This system has proven to be remarkably effective for the government’s counterterrorism policies and does not need a bigoted, discriminatory ban to augment the system. 

Without the NO BAN Act, President Trump has a blank check to ban entire nations from the United States with little Congressional oversight and little remaining legal recourse for affected communities. With the NO BAN Act, Trump’s Muslim ban would be no more and future Presidents would have to meet stringent criteria tied to facts in order to institute bans, while both Congress and affected communities would have substantial recourse to step-in in the event of a discriminatory order. The choice is clear: Congress must pass the NO BAN Act.  

Additional Resources
National Iranian American Council (NIAC) – Discriminatory Nature of the Ban  
National Immigration Law Center (NILC) – FAQ: The No Ban Act
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – Congressional Action to End the Bans
Congressional Research Service – Executive Authority to Exclude Aliens: In Brief
The Supreme Court of the United States: Trump v. Hawaii


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