A Brief History of the Travel Ban

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order stopping the entry of all refugees for 120 days (Syrian refugees were banned indefinitely) and temporarily banning people from seven, majority-Muslim, countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. In the immediate release of this order, protestors filled major airports, demanding that US officials “Let Them In.” The following weekend saw widespread protests and demonstrations in major cities including Washington DC, New York, and Boston. US officials at airports also faced operational challenges, as the order was given seemingly without the consultation of critical government institutions including the Department of Homeland Security.

In the weeks and months that followed, President Trump’s order faced legal challenges. On February 7, 2017, a federal judge in Washington state granted an immediate halt of the ban’s implementation. On March 6, 2017, President Trump signed another executive order, revoking and replacing the previous order. The new executive order was blocked by a US district judge in Hawaii. A third attempt on a travel ban was also struck down by Hawaii in October 2017. The newest ban would have added travelers from the countries of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.

This Year’s Updates

On April 25, 2018, the Supreme Court held deliberations on the travel ban and later released the recordings of their conversations. The recordings suggested that the third version of the travel ban may be upheld by the court. A final decision by the court was expected in June.

On June 26, 2018, the US Supreme Court decided to uphold President Trump’s travel ban with a vote of 5 to 4, affirming that the President of the United States has “substantial power to regulate immigration.” The decision suspended both non-immigrant and immigrant visas from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela. President Trump reacted to the vote via Twitter, calling the ruling a “tremendous victory for the American People and the Constitution.”


According to immigrant advocacy groups, more than 135 million people are impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision, the majority of whom are in the five Muslim-majority nations, with the highest number hailing from Iran. The addition of Venezuela and North Korea to the list of ‘banned countries,’ is somewhat insignificant, according to critics, as North Korea allows few citizens to travel to the United States and, in the case of Venezuela, the order only applies to “a handful of officials and their families.”

Besides the legal implications of such a ban, the US is now in a time of moral reckoning. To what extent does the United States want to be thought of as a closed-off country, disconnected from the global community, and ignoring the plight of the people it once welcomed? The ongoing debate over the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ has arguably damaged America’s standing in the world.

Advocates for immigrant rights argue that the current administration is already implementing a ‘Muslim ban,’ pointing to the sharp decrease in immigration, including refugee resettlement, from majority-Muslim countries. There has also been a steep decline in visitor visas to the United States. Perhaps most devastating of all, the ban has left hundreds, if not thousands, of families in a limbo.


Written by [Refugees Welcome!] Board Member, Marina Gabriel

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