The Corner

Politics & Policy

Opponents of the Travel Ban Should Clarify Their Language

Rep. Ilhan Omar participates in a news conference in Washington, D.C., February 7, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Ilhan Omar’s tweets have landed her in scalding hot water on several occasions, with many on the right accusing her of anti-Semitism. One of Omar’s latest tweets targets President Trump’s “Muslim ban” and is no less pernicious, stating: “I ran on a promise to end the President’s hateful Muslim ban. And tomorrow we will introduce a bill do just that. No one should be denied basic rights because of their religion, race or national origin. #NoBanAct

It’s worth debunking the claim that the travel ban imposed by the administration exclusively applies to Muslims. While the ban does affect people from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iran, and Somalia (which are all conflict zones or embroiled in regional conflict), it’s not accurate to call the policy — which affects residents from other conflict zones, e.g. Venezuela — a “Muslim ban.”

Personally, I oppose the ban, and I’d argue that the consequences of the ban aren’t just a nuisance or temporary impediment for the people from the affected countries — Yemenis especially are often facing day-to-day struggles for survival. But Democrats haven’t articulated their opposition in terms that capture the dire circumstances that people from all faiths and ethnicities are facing in these countries.

Take the Syrian refugee crisis (which has also caused the displacement of millions of people internally). It affects not only Syrian Muslims but also the Christian population, which has dropped precipitously since the 20th century, much of the population migrating to surrounding European countries and America. While many of Syria’s Christians sought temporary refuge in countries such as Germany and Australia and have since returned to their homes, many Syrian Christians who couldn’t return to their homes due to the damage caused by street warfare and bombings (or because they’d like to become Americans for the same reasons immigrants always have) and have family in America are unable to pursue a visa to come to the country despite the often-urgent nature of their circumstances. As many as 37,000 total visas were denied in 2018 alone following the ban, up from 1,000 the previous year. From The Atlantic:

For instance: The U.S. government says Iraqi Christians and Yazidis face the threat of genocide at the hands of isis. Yet the U.S. admitted only 26 Iraqi Christians in fiscal year 2018. The numbers for other Middle Eastern countries weren’t much better: The U.S. admitted 23 Iranian Christians and 20 Syrian Christians. For the entire region, the U.S. admitted 70 Christians—a 97.7 percent decline from fiscal year 2017. (The U.S. accepted 161 Muslim refugees from the Middle East the same year. The corresponding percentage decline was 98.6 percent.)

Calling the policy a “Muslim ban” overlooks these populations, which have been struggling for the survival of their communities in the past decade and have faced persecution. The travel ban applies to people who are seeking to leave the tumultuous conditions in their respective country, and the No Ban Act in Congress notes that it “is a clear and unequivocal response to the Muslim Ban that would ensure no one can be banned from our country based on religious or nationality-based discrimination ever again.”

If the visa freeze were primarily religious-based, then several other nearly-exclusively-Muslim countries in the Persian Gulf would be added to that list. The policy has gone through several iterations, but the phrase “Muslim ban” is inaccurate and being deployed for political purposes. Democrats should consider an accurate term.

Marlo Safi is a Collegiate Network Fellow with National Review.

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