Bard Students React to US Appeals Court Phone Call

MAEVE LAZOR, CO-EDITOR IN CHIEF | FEBRUARY 8, 2017
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Trump’s immigration executive order has shaken the world since it has been issued, causing chaos at airports–especially JFK last Saturday, January 28–civil unrest and an increased Islamophobic attitude among many Americans.

At a liberal school like Bard, many students have already taken action and have spoken out against the order. Dozens have attended the “No ban”, “No wall” protests in Poughkeepsie and in New York City. Bard’s Muslim Student Organization, MSO, organized a panel discussion with Q&A. Individuals have published opinion pieces in the school’s paper and countless others are furiously sharing news links on Facebook. Many have expressed deep concern about what this means for Muslim immigrant and refugee students from the seven Muslim-majority countries targeted—at Bard and colleges across America.

“America is being challenged. We are being tested to see if we [stand for what we say we stand for],” said sophomore Justice Williams, who is taking a class on Constitutional Law this semester. “Our rights as citizens don’t apply to non-citizens so our question now is do we treat people who are not US citizens as if they were–do we understand that these rights are human rights? Does being a quote on quote American give you a privilege? Yes, it does thoroughly, but we are really being tested to see if we really believe in equality and freedom of religion…”

The executive order clearly violates certain Amendments of the US Constitution. On Tuesday February 7, at 6pm E.T., the US appeals court panel in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit heard the arguments of the Washington v. Donald J. Trump case over a telephone hearing.

The Washington v. Donald J. Trump case was brought to court because of the “alleged harms” Trump’s immigration executive order created in regards to immigrant and refugee students at Washington State University, which is protected by the US government. It is one of few cases that a state has sued an individual—in this case the POTUS—instead of an agency. Justice Department lawyers, however, argued Friday that these alleged harms inflicted by the order were too “speculative.”

The executive order, which temporarily bars immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria for the next 90 days and refugees for the next 120, is now widely known as a “Muslim Ban” because the order targets seven predominantly Muslim countries. During his presidency, Trump has made public statements charged with Islamophobia and promised to halt Muslim immigration during his campaign as early as December 2015.

“[Trump’s public comments about banning Muslims] are not enough evidence [to repeal the order,]” Justice Williams said of the US Appeals Court hearing. “When it comes down to what Trump is saying, it’s a matter of national security…He could so easily say it’s for the interest of national security and the safety of American citizens.

“We have clips and transcripts of him saying extremely racist and Islamophobic things but they have all been in the vein of terrorism and national security…There’s an activist way of seeing it—or the liberal activist—listening to what he says and though his comments may be riddled with ‘terrorism’ and ‘nationalism’ and ‘security,’ activists are hearing those Islamophobic generalizations; meanwhile someone who is on the far-right hears: ‘national security’ ‘safety’ ‘bombings’ ‘deaths’ ‘terrorism and the middle eastern.’ I don’t think it’s enough evidence, sadly,” she said.

On Friday, February 3, Federal Judge James Robart, a George W. Bush appointee in Washington State, suspended crucial parts of the executive order nationwide in a lower-court order, explaining the order affects “residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel.”

Trump responded to the injunction by firing a series of tweets that arguably attacked the federal judge. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” he tweeted Saturday.

There is a clear basis behind the moratorium in that it violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution since it shows government preference for one religion over another; it also violates the Equal Protection Clause, which is part of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it discriminates against religion and national origin. Many agencies understand the gravity of these violations, including The Department of Homeland Security, which also suspended all actions to implement the order. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, and many politicians and judges see the ban as unconstitutional and un-American.

Attorneys general for Washington and Minnesota, which challenged the executive order, say that the injunction should stay in place because the President had “unleashed chaos” by signing the order. However, the Justice Department has urged Congress to reinstate the travel ban, claiming the immigrants and refugees entering the US from the seven Muslim-majority countries remain a threat to the nation’s security.

“(Robart’s ruling) contravenes the considered judgment of Congress that the President should have the unreviewable authority to suspend the admission of any class of aliens,” the Justice Department wrote in its filing for the scheduled phone call.

The US appeals court judges were presented with a vast array of arguments on Tuesday, from the nation’s current state of security to the legality of the executive order. There was much debate about the degree to which the order allegedly “harms” Muslim immigrants and refugees. For example, individuals have been left stranded overseas, thousands are unable to flee dangerous areas when seeking asylum in the US, families have been torn apart and many international students are unable to attend school in the states, as cited in the Washington v. Trump lawsuit.

A number of Bard students, including sophomore Lucy Sorrell, a psychology major, agreed that the order lacks morality and defies American values. “As far as the Muslim ban, it’s a combination of morals and rationale…If there is too much civil unrest in the US, I fear it will escalate too quickly and I’m afraid some way no one will stand up to Trump…. A lot of people think revolution is the only answer. [The Trump administration is] trying to find reasons for [immigrants and refugees] not to be here,” Sorrell said.

Sorrell also offered her opinion on Trump’s dismissal of the media and accurate reporting. “It’s your duty to sort through the information you are given and then make your own decisions. But so much of America takes what they are given and lets it become ideology… A lot of people don’t want to question the media or question what they are being told,” she said.

The appeals court judges considered several factors when evaluating the moratorium, including the proprietary interest of the state, the public interest factor, religious animus, and any proprietary harm caused since the order was issued.

Junior Joy Al-Nemri, an anthropology major and Palestinian and Jordanian-American student, commented on the role religious animus has played in the executive order, voicing her opinion on Trump’s favoring of Christian refugees. “One of the most excruciating aspects I find from the ban is that Trump wants to prioritize resettling Christian refugees over Muslims. This is problematic for several reasons, but one that I would like to highlight is that I have witness an unsettling amount of Islamophobic sentiment among Christians of the Middle East and would hate for this ban to reinforce it,” she said.

Trump has already made critical changes in the US refugee program and immigration policy: one is treating persecuted Christians as a priority. In all, the US admitted a record total of 38,901 Muslim refugees compared with the 37,521 Christians in fiscal year 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. Trump believes that Syrian Christians seeking refugee status in the US have been treated unfairly in comparison to Syrian Muslims and is now prioritizing religious groups in a ban that was issued on the basis of religious animus.

There is no denying the racist motivation behind the executive order, yet the monitor of the phone call hearing pointed out several times that general solicitor Purcell, who argued on behalf of the state of Washington, did not have enough evidence to argue his claim that the executive order was motivated by anti-Muslim bias and was, in fact, a ban on Muslims. Purcell argued that the comments the POTUS made were enough evidence to prove that the order is racist and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

According to attorney Flentje, who represented the Justice Department, the president’s order “struck a balance between security concerns and the practice of allowing people to enter the country.”

The appeals court judges grilled Flentje to explain why the order should not be considered a violation of constitutional protections against religious discrimination.

Judge Clifton expressed confusion for why the Justice Department should infer religious animus. “The concern for terrorism with those connected to radical Islamic sects is kind of hard to deny,” he said.

Purcell quickly responded that the president’s public statements about Muslims were enough proof that the goal of the executive order was to keep Muslims out of the US.

The appeals court concluded to reject the demand to resume travel ban; Robart’s injunction remains in place, for now. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was no simple win for either side. There is still no conclusive evidence from the Trump administration or the states represented that the motive of the executive order was religious discrimination.  It is likely that the case will soon appeal to the Supreme Court.

Many students, such as freshman Timur Celebi, a Turkish-American student who identifies as Christian, still have hope in officially repealing the order and applaud Judge Robart’s injunction. “I think certain agencies are making good progress,” Celebi said. “I’ve been talking to my mother about this—she’s an immigration lawyer—the ACLU has been doing very well in combating this. In general the atmosphere is worrying to me. My cousin—he’s a devout Muslim and I’m worried for his safety as well as many other of my family members here. The problem is it’s an entire religion—it’s seriously problematic and goes against what are supposed to be American values.”

Image by Nina Tanujaya/ Bard Watch.

To respond to this article, or to submit an op-ed, contact bardwatchmanaging@gmail.com

Correction: Saturday, February 11, 2017

An earlier version of this article referenced Timur Celebi as an American student from Turkey. He is a Turkish-American student who attends Bard and resides in Turkey.

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