Trump Is Not The First President To Ban Foreigners. So Why Is This Time Different?
February 6, 2017
Donald Trump’s travel ban isn’t new.
Six of the last seven presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have relied on the same federal law to keep certain groups of foreigners out of the United States.
Jimmy Carter denied entry to Iranians in April 1980 after a failed rescue mission for American hostages in Iran. Ronald Reagan barred migrants arriving at the borders from “the high seas” in September 1981, targeting Haitians and Cubans. Bill Clinton in November 1999 barred those responsible for repressing civilians in Kosovo. And George W. Bush in June 2001 banned those who planned or carried out wartime atrocities in the Western Balkans.
“In general, all presidents have used executive orders to impact immigration policy,” said Clete Samson, an immigration attorney who spent years as a federal trial attorney for the Department of Homeland Security.
In each case, the presidents relied on 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), a statute that gives them wide latitude over who can come into the country.
“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,” the law says.
Trump cited the law when issuing his executive order last month that froze refugee admissions and temporarily blocked people from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering the United States, even with valid visas.
Critics call Trump’s order a Muslim ban, the same one he spoke of on the campaign trail. But the White House pushes back on the label, saying the nations were not chosen because they are Muslim majority. More than 40 countries that are Muslim-majority were not included in the ban.
“Congress has given the office of the president broad power to suspend entry of foreign nationals when doing so would be in the national interest,” said Raj Shah, deputy communications director at the White House. “President Trump acted well within his authority and in a manner also exercised by previous presidents in similar ways.”
Most recently, President Barack Obama in August 2011 banned immigrants who had committed or participated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of human rights or violence against any civilian population based on race, color, descent, sex and a host of other conditions that ranged from disability to membership in a particular social group.
“The United States’ enduring commitment to respect for human rights and humanitarian law requires that its government be able to ensure that the United States does not become a safe haven for serious violators of human rights and humanitarian law and those who engage in other related abuses,” he wrote in his order.
[W]hite House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday dismissed suggestions that the administration could withdraw the order and rewrite it.
“Clearly the law is on the president’s side,” he said. “The Constitution is on the president’s side. He has broad discretion to do what’s in the nation’s best interest to protect our people.”