The Corner

Federal Law Already Provides for a Travel Ban Due to Ebola Outbreak

When a new crisis or controversy arises, and the urge to be seen as doing something! kicks in, it is the unfortunate habit of Washington to propose new legislative fixes rather than look at the thousands of laws already on the books. So it is that Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) says he will introduce a bill that would temporarily suspend the issuance of visas to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — in effect, the travel ban that many have unsuccessfully urged President Obama to impose on West African countries with severe Ebola outbreaks.

Yet, as J. Christian Adams has pointed out, federal law already provides for a travel ban. Specifically, section 1182(f) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (found in Title 8 of the U.S. Code) states in pertinent part:

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.

That is, Congress has already given the president the power to ban travel — and done so in a way that has the advantage of making such a ban quickly modified or removed, without additional legislation, if conditions change.

I understand that Senator Rubio is talking about a congressional directive that the travel from three specific countries be banned, as opposed to the broad, non-specific discretion vested in the president by current law. But what difference does that make? As a practical matter, the senator’s proposal could not become law unless the president signed it. If President Obama were favorably disposed toward a ban, he would simply order one under the authority that Congress has already provided under section 1182(f). So unless there is a real chance that Congress would override a presidential veto of a travel ban — and I imagine it is unlikely that a lame-duck Senate under Harry Reid’s control would even allow a vote on Rubio’s proposal — I don’t see the point.

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud Senator Rubio for exhibiting leadership and common sense. At Newark airport in New Jersey, there was yet another Ebola alarm overnight. While it looks like the Liberian citizen in question does not have Ebola, it is foolish to continue making ourselves vulnerable until the outbreak is under control at its source. But it seems the best use of Congress’s time would be in pressuring President Obama to use the power he already has rather than debating a bill he would refuse to sign.

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