As the world watches with growing concern and protests and lawsuits mount in the United States, the Donald Trump administration is defending the travel ban on refugees and some Muslims. It has insisted the ban is not about religion, but about keeping out terrorists - or “bad dudes” as the president called them on Monday.
Protests have been reported from all around the country, mostly outside airports, as the White House’s travel restrictions on all refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries ordered by Trump last Friday, which are being called the “Muslim ban”, have come under increased scrutiny from courts and opposition from civil rights bodies and political rivals.
Federal judges in four states are considering lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the executive order and will hear arguments for striking it down this week. The Council for American-Islamic Relations, a leading body representing American Muslims, is scheduled to move a fresh case on Monday.
Democrats in the US Congress are planning legislative action, also on Monday, to override Trump’s executive order, which was called “mean-spirited and un-American” by Charles Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, at a news briefing.
Even Republicans have come out in opposition. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement the order was not “properly vetted” and was issued without adequate consultation and may do more to help “terrorist recruitment than improve our security”.
Reportedly totally unprepared for the intensity of the opposition, Trump and his aides are pushing back in a series of television interviews, appearances on morning shows and, in the case of the president, on Twitter, his megaphone of choice.
“If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” Trump tweeted, seeking to address criticism that not enough preparation had gone into it.
The confusion at airports here and abroad was blamed on the secrecy that surrounded the order. The customs and border protection officials and others tasked with enforcing the order had not seen it until after it was signed despite the fact that members of the president’s aides, especially those on the transition team, had been working on it for a long time. When asked by lawyers of two Iraqi refugees detained at JFK Airport on Friday about who they should contact for redressal, airport officials reportedly told them, “Call Mr Trump.”
The president and his aides have also pushed back on number of people affected by the order. “Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning,” Trump tweeted, adding, “Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage.”
But Trump is keenly aware he is dealing with a crisis that is not going too well for him and his short time in office, as talk has already started that he could be facing a potential defeat. The American Civil Liberties Union, which helped free the Iraqi refugees with a lawsuit, is already taunting him, using a line from his campaign: “He’s going to lose so much we’re going to get sick and tired of his losing.”
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump said in a statement on Sunday. “This is not about religion - this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” He argued that the temporary ban affects only seven countries. “There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
And he invoked his predecessor, saying his policy was “similar to what President Barack Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months”. Even the seven countries chosen for the ban were those identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.