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Protesting Trump’s Muslim Ban Through Art: An Immigration Lawyer’s Perspective

There are many ways to protest Trump’s travel ban, also known as the Muslim ban. Lawyers have successfully sued against the ban in the courts. People protested at airports in an unprecedented and spontaneous manner. Art can also be a powerful form of protest against the ban.  The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has also joined the protests by displayng works of artists from the banned countries among other iconic works of art in its permanent collection. One has to go through the galleries housing the permanent collection to serendipitously come across the work of an artist from a banned country, which in the age of Trump, have also attained iconic status. Art is able to inspire the lawyer in protesting the ban. Trump’s exclusion of an entire people from a banned country casts all of them as terrorists, including the artist. This is both legally wrong and morally shameful.

These are three of my favorites among the works of the artists from the banned countries at the MOMA. I have also included at the end the works of two artists from my own very modest art collection. I am happy to possess these works, which have always been beautiful, but resonate more powerfully today. They inspire me as I protest Trump’s ban.

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi – born in Iran

Ibrahim el- Salahi - born in Sudan

Ibrahim el- Salahi – born in Sudan

Parviz Tanavoli – born in Iran

 

These are two works from my own collection, the first which I acquired in 1993 and the second in 2010.

 

Reza Derakshani – born in Iran

Mary Yahya – born in Iraq

No Matter How Many New Travel Bans Trump Issues, Maximum Power Does Not Mean Absolute Power

By Cyrus D. Mehta and Sophia Genovese-Halvorson

We have numerous justifiable concerns with the immigration policies of the Trump Administration on behalf of our clients and all Americans who feel that our values are being undermined, especially the Executive Order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Fortunately, courts across the country seem to agree except for one. Most notable were United States District Judge Robart’s nation-wide temporary restraining order (TRO) of the EO in the Western District of Washington and United States District Judge Brinkema’s Virginia-wide injunction against the EO in the Eastern District of Virginia. Due to these and many other orders, as well as heavy backlash, the Trump Administration has now stepped back and have stated that they will replace the January 27 EO with a new Executive Order sometime next week that will survive judicial scrutiny. It is our view, however, that even this new EO in whatever way repackaged will be unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

As a reminder, the January 27 EO suspended for 90 days the entry of persons from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely, unless they received an exemption from DHS for being a “religious-minority.” The EO immediately disrupted the lives of thousands of people, from non-immigrants, immigrants, LPRs, and even dual-citizen holders. The first suit against the EO came only a day after its enactment in the Eastern District of New York, which issued an emergency stay that temporarily blocked the government from sending people out of the country after they have landed at a U.S. airport with valid visas, including green card holders. There were several other injunctions that followed. Then the States of Washington and Minnesota filed suit in the Western District of Washington, requesting, among other things, a restraining order on the ban. Judge Robart issued a nationwide temporary restraining order against the ban, which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. Judge Robart’s ruling on the merits is still pending. Meanwhile, Judge Brinkema in the Eastern District of Virginia granted a Virginia-wide injunction against the EO, citing specifically to the Establishment Clause.

President Trump continues to argue that the President has extensive powers granted to him under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) § 212(f), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(f), and proffers that the judiciary cannot exercise jurisdiction over an EO due to the plenary powers doctrine. In relevant part, INA § 212(f) states that,

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

However, as Judge Brinkema rightfully pointed out in her decision, “maximum power does not mean absolute power.” Aziz v. Trump, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20889, at *11 (E.D. Va. Feb. 13, 2017). In her analysis, Judge Brinkema reaffirms that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and that no one, not even the President, can violate its terms. Citing to landmark cases such as Zadvdas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678 (2001) (finding that the power of the Executive is “subject to important constitutional limitations,” holding that LPRs are entitled to due process rights, and that their indefinite detention is a violation of those rights), Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004) (noting that the President’s Article II powers are subject to review, holding that citizens held as enemy combatants must be afforded due process rights, namely the meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for their detention), among others, she proves this point.

The Ninth Circuit that affirmed Judge Robart’s TRO also provided precedent on the reviewability of the Executive, citing to Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723, 765 (2008) (specifically noting that the political branches cannot “switch the Constitution on or off at will” and providing the right of habeas review to a non-citizen outside the US) and INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983) (noting that Courts are empowered to review whether or not “Congress has chosen a constitutionally permissible means of implementing” the “regulation of aliens.”). The Ninth Circuit goes so far to say that even under Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972), the Court can review the actions of the Executive branch, noting that but for their ability to review, there would be no “facially legitimate and bona fide reason” test to measure executive exercises of immigration authority.

In short, there is no doubt that Trump’s Executive Orders are subject to review when there is an alleged violation of the Constitution. But what specifically is unconstitutional about Trump’s ban? Or a rewrite of the ban even if it does not apply to lawful permanent residents or non-immigrants who have already been in the United States? One indication of the new EO by DHS Secretary Kelly is that it would give time for people to come back in , and would presumably include the same 7 nations whose nationals would be barred from future entries.

The Establishment Clause

The Establishment Clause argument has great merit, and it is the opinion of these authors that this argument will likely prevent Trump from prevailing on even his latest Executive Order, where it is likely he will include even non-Muslim countries, so as to appear non-discriminatory. The Virginia Court, in relevant part, explains that,

“The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” The Supreme Court has articulated various tests for determining whether that command has been violated. The first such test is that the law “must have a secular…purpose.” “In the past, [this] test has not been fatal very often, presumably because government does not generally act unconstitutionally, with the predominant purpose of advancing” one religion over the other. The secular purpose requirement “‘nevertheless serves an important function,’” because “[b]y showing a purpose to favor religion, the government sends the…message to…nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members.” This message of exclusion from the political community is all the more conspicuous when the government acts with a specific purpose to disfavor a particular religion. (internal citations omitted).

(Aziz, at *13-14).

In order to assess whether there was discriminatory intent in the January 27 EO, Judge Brinkema cites heavily to statements made by Trump during his campaign, especially noting that a “Muslim Ban” was a central feature of his platform. She also pointed to post-election and post-inaugural interviews where he speaks about the need to prioritize Christian refugees. She also cites to a particularly intriguing quote by Rudy Giuliani, who stated after the EO’s enactment, that “when [Trump] first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’…And what we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger—the areas of the word that create danger for us…Which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible. And that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are [sic] substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.” Additionally, Judge Brinkema noted that post-hoc statements by DHS Secretary Kelly and White House Chief Counsel proclaiming that this is not a Muslim ban will be given little weight because we are looking to past intent in our analysis.

These statements taken together go to show that the ultimate aim of the Trump Administration is to ban Muslims. Even in light of the new EO, which may or may not include non-Muslim majority countries, these statements cannot be washed away. The intent to ban Muslims is there. The intent to violate the Establishment Clause, without outright saying it, is there. “‘The world is not made brand new every morning,’ a person is not made brand new simply by taking the oath of office.” Aziz, at *15. Trump’s new EO is only being reissued because he and his Administration know it is likely that his January 27 EO is unconstitutional. Essentially, the new EO will be a repackaging of the old. The intent, therefore, remains to ban Muslims. This is the case even if the new EO proposes to ban future entrants. While people with no ties to the US may not have the same constitutional rights as lawful permanent residents, such a person who wishes to visit a US citizen relative or attend a US educational institution could still likely be able to challenge an unconstitutional EO pursuant to Boumediene v. Bush and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

Balancing the Government and State’s Interests

Given that plaintiffs can likely prevail on the Establishment Clause argument, the government must prove that its national security concerns are bona fide. This means that the government must present evidence to support its assertions that these EOs are vital for the preservation of national security. Judge Brinkema again notes that in the Virginia case, the government failed to provide any evidence to support their claim. The Ninth Circuit also noted that no evidence had been proffered to point to terrorist threats of nationals from the original seven banned countries. In fact, Judge Brinkema states that the only evidence offered in this regard is the declaration of 10 national security experts who declared that the January 27 EO only serves to make the country less safe. It is possible, though, that a court may follow what the Massachusetts district court in Louhghalam v. Trump did, and grant the President this authority and not find discriminatory intent (although the court rendered this decision to justify not extending the injunction indefinitely, which it did initially, and did not analyze the discriminatory intent).

It is clear to us, and hopefully to a court that hears the new challenge,  that the discriminatory intent will still exist in this new EO, thereby remaining in violation of the Establishment Clause. While it remains unclear if courts will find that this new EO puts forth facially legitimate national security concerns, it will still possess discriminatory intent, specifically banning Muslims, and will fail under the “bona fide” prong put forth in Kleindienst. See also American Academy of Religions v. Napolitano, 573 F.3d 115 (2009).  If the EO is found to possess facially legitimate national security concerns, but also formed in bad faith, it will be up to the courts to decide if these national security concerns have enough muster to overcome constitutional constraints. But history has repeatedly shown that national security concerns have been conveniently and falsely invoked even to deprive US citizens of their rights as with the shameful internment of Japanese Americans.

These national security concerns, in our opinion,  are invalid and cannot even pass the facially legitimate prong. Immigrants and refugees face numerous screenings before being granted admission into the United States. In addition, the immigration process can take years. The government in the January 27 EO proceedings failed to offer evidence that these processes were defective in their ability to screen out security threats. Further, it is unlikely that a terrorist would go through the trouble of filing an nonimmigrant/immigrant petition, only to be vetted several times over, then be subjected to a consular interview, and then still have to make it through Customs and Border Protection. It is an inefficient means to their end. Even attempting to ban prospective entrants who have not had ties with the United States cannot be justified if the ban violates the Establishment Clause. Since Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803),  the Supreme Court has recognized that when a government action is in conflict with the Constitution, it is for the judiciary to say what the law is. This is the wonderful balance that preserves American democracy. White House advisor Stephen Miller was wrong to assert that an unelected judge cannot check the President’s power in the area of immigration. The will of the majority, even in a democracy, cannot trample upon the rights of others. If that happens, the judiciary applies the breaks on such abuse of power so as to protect those who are trampled upon by the majority.

But most importantly, the majority of people seeking to temporarily visit or immigrate to the United States are peaceful people. Just because they share a different religion, worldview, or skin tone than some Americans does not mean that they are somehow violent or a threat. In fact, the opposite is true. Immigrants have been critical in the continued advancement of our country. From science and technology, to social ingenuity and progress, immigrants have helped to continue moving our country forward. To equate immigrants or non-immigrants, especially those from Muslim-majority countries with terrorists is not only bigoted, but it is simply untrue. Profiling all people from a specific country cannot serve as a proxy for individualized suspicion and guilt. It is also a sloppy law enforcement technique as an individual who desires to harm the country can evade being part of the profile. There are other smart law enforcement techniques that have been successfully deployed to track and apprehend people who intend to do us harm than profiling all people of a country.

President Trump derives his authority to assert maximum power through the plenary power doctrine, which arose from a Supreme Court case in the late 1800s, Ping v. United States, 130 U.S. 581, that upheld the racist Chinese Exclusion Act. In the 21st century, after the United States has made such strides in civil rights, women’s rights, and marriage equality, there is no longer place for plenary power as a justification to violate the Constitution. Allowing President Trump to assert such maximum power, based on the plenary power doctrine, only takes America back more than a hundred years after all the progress that has been achieved. The plenary power, as asserted in the travel ban EO, also sends a wrong message to the world that America is no longer a welcoming place for people to travel, do business, temporarily work, or to make a permanent home. Being unwelcoming, arbitrary and intolerant is inconsistent with the notion of America as a great nation. On this President’s Day, it is important to reflect whether now is the opportune moment to reassess the plenary power doctrine that was grounded in a racist law whose purpose was to exclude Chinese nationals just as the current or future EO is aimed against banning Muslims. It is high time for the courts to once and for all recognize the supremacy of the Constitution over the president’s absolute power.

[Sophia Genovese-Halvorson, who is pursuing her JD degree at Brooklyn Law School,  is a Legal Intern at Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC]

Trump and the Snake

Donald Trump is fond of reading the lyrics from Al Wilson’s 1968 R&B hit song “The Snake” in his campaign rallies.  While this is a catchy tune, Trump has now corrupted the song by associating it with his opposition to Muslims. He first called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, including Syrian refugees, and recently modified it by calling for a suspension of immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States or its allies.  Trump most recently said that the United States should consider more racial profiling, in response to a question about whether he supported greater law enforcement scrutiny of Muslim Americans after the Orlando mass shooting. If all of these proposals were implemented, it would impede the ability of millions of temporary visa holders and immigrants to legitimately enter the United States.

This video depicting  Trump’s reading of The Snake in his rally in Greensboro, NC on June 14, 2016 is too chilling to watch, as the reading is interspersed with the ejection of a protestor amidst frenzied chants of “USA… USA”. Although the lyrics are inspired by Aesop’s fable of the Farmer and the Viper,   the lyrics appear very sinister when Trump associates them with his war on Muslims. The lyrics revolve around a tender hearted woman who rescues a half frozen snake. After the snake is rescued, he bites the woman, and when she is dying, the snake tells her that she knew very well that she took in a poisonous snake. One view regarding the moral of this fable is to teach the lesson not to expect a reward from the wicked. Another view is that the rescuer realizes that it is his own fault for pitying a scoundrel. Trump first associated these lyrics with Syrian refugees, fully realizing that almost all the refugees have genuinely escaped harm in Syria, and many have been desperate enough to even die, including children, while trying to reach safer shores.

Read the lyrics yourself to see how they have been twisted to suit Trump’s agenda:

On her way to work one morning
Down the path alongside the lake
A tender hearted woman saw a poor half frozen snake
His pretty colored skin had been all frosted with the dew
“Oh well,” she cried, “I’ll take you in and I’ll take care of you”
“Take me in oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

She wrapped him up all cozy in a curvature of silk
And then laid him by the fireside with some honey and some milk
Now she hurried home from work that night as soon as she arrived
She found that pretty snake she’d taking in had been revived
“Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

Now she clutched him to her bosom, “You’re so beautiful, ” she cried
“But if I hadn’t brought you in by now you might have died”
Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight
But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite
“Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

“I saved you,” cried that woman
“And you’ve bit me even, why?
You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”
“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in
“Take me in, oh tender woman
Take me in, for heaven’s sake
Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

 Trump has even more shamelessly exploited these lyrics after the massacre of innocent LGBT party goers in an Orlando night club by Omar Mateen, who was discovered to be a Muslim and born in the United States. The snake, according to Trump, represents the Muslim immigrant who was let into the country, and who now viciously bites the people who let him in.  Even though Mateen was a US citizen by virtue of his birth in this country, Trump falsely asserted in one of his speeches that he “was born in Afghan, of Afghan parents, who immigrated to the United States.” Trump went on to add that the  “only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here.”  While there was profiling of Muslim immigrants following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Trump’s proposals would far exceed the profiling policies that were put into place following 9/11.

Following 9/11, the Bush administration through Attorney General Ashcroft tweaked the rules to make it easier to detain immigrants. The expanded regulation, which took effect on September 20, 2001, authorized the then INS to hold any non-citizen in custody for 48 hours or an unspecified “additional reasonable time” before charging the person with an offense. In the post 9/11 sweep, immigrants from mainly Muslim countries were detained and deported in secret. Although they were detained because of immigration violations, it was under the pretext of investigating them for suspected links to terrorism. In the end, the 1000+ immigrants who were detained and deported in secret were not charged or convicted of terrorism.

The Bush Administration then implemented Special Registration, which applied to males from 26 countries, 25 of which had significant Islamic populations. Dutifully, 85,000 people lined up to register, thinking that they should cooperate with the government. 13,000 men who were found to have immigration violations, many of whom may have been on the path to getting green cards, were placed in deportation proceedings. Not a single terrorist was discovered under the Special Registration program, which proved to be a colossal waste of tax payer money and was disbanded.

Trump now wishes to take these discredited policies even further. Although there was profiling since 9/11, and every application for an immigration benefit since those attacks is viewed through the prism of national security, immigration did not stop. The basic architecture of our immigration system remained intact, and eligible applicants have been admitted while undergoing more extensive security checks.  If Trump’s proposals are implemented, there will be a complete ban on immigration from countries where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States. Just as finding out who is a Muslim would be unclear, it is equally unclear whether this ban would include people from countries such as Syria or Pakistan, or whether it would also involve certain European countries such as France, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Would it also include countries like India or The Philippines, which sends one of the largest numbers of immigrants to the United States? The ban would cover visitors, students and people from these countries, which have all inspired terrorist attacks on its soil, who are legitimately immigrating, including spouses of US citizens. To blame immigrants for the Orlando killings goes beyond the pale, which was perpetrated by a mentally unstable American citizen who may have been inspired by terrorism but also by hate against LGBTs. And where does this stop? Trump said that if the parents were not allowed into the country, this massacre would not have happened. But what about the countless gun deaths caused by other mentally unstable US citizens?  Is Trump blaming these killers’ ancestors who may have at some point in time come from another country? Trump is inappropriately casting doubt on an entire  religion of over 1.2 billion adherents worldwide who are essentially peaceful.

While Trump’s rhetoric is frightening enough, there is ample authority in the law that would allow him to implement his proposed ban if he became President. Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides in part, as follows:

(f) Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President – Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or ay class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

Apart from Congress putting a check on the President’s authority under INA 212(f), and possibly the courts,  the only likely limitations on the exercise of this authority is with respect to lawful permanent residents who have taken brief trips abroad and would be assimilated to the status of a continuously-present resident under Delgadillo v. Carmichael, Kwong Hai Chew v. Colding and Landon v. Plasencia. Even they would be at some risk of being denied readmission, and would probably be better advised not to travel outside the US under a hypothetical President Trump.

The good news is that despite playing to irrational fear and reciting the lyrics of The Snake, Trump’s poll numbers have slipped. The conventional wisdom used to be that a Republican presidential candidate who was forceful on security issues would gain an advantage prior to an election. It appears that the attack in Orlando has not helped Trump, and fear mongering may have lost its appeal.  This could well change if there was another attack orchestrated by a foreign terrorist organization rather than by an unstable US citizen, but so far Trump’s war on Muslims does not seem to be helping him. After all the senseless racial profiling following 9/11, it should become pretty obvious to the American people that profiling a whole community for the acts of one person is not a good law enforcement tactic. It would only alienate the community whose members are well integrated into the American fabric and contributing to the country, and who would also be willing to cooperate with law enforcement. It is also most un-American to profile a whole community as a substitute for individualized guilt, which goes against the principles upon which this nation was founded and has set an example for scores of countries around the world.

If Trump continues to slip, it is hoped that The Snake again be viewed as a cool R&B song in the soul music genre rather than a hate anthem against Muslims.