Jewish groups join criticism of Trump’s updated travel ban

HIAS, Anti-Defamation League and J Street say measure runs counter to American and Jewish values

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press at the White House in Washington, DC, September 24, 2017. (AFP/NICHOLAS KAMM)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press at the White House in Washington, DC, September 24, 2017. (AFP/NICHOLAS KAMM)

The Trump administration spent months hashing out new travel restrictions on more than a half-dozen countries, determined to avoid the chaos that accompanied its first travel ban. But critics say it’s a mystery why some countries are included, and they believe Venezuela and North Korea were added to provide legal and political cover for what they say remains a “Muslim ban.”

The new restrictions covering citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — and some Venezuelan government officials and their families — are to go into effect October 18.

Reaction to the President Donald Trump’s announcement was swift, including among several US Jewish groups, with some critics of the original travel ban expressing similar concerns about the latest effort to toughen the country’s border.

In response to the September 24 release of the Trump administration’s new travel restrictions, Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, a global Jewish nonprofit that aids refugees, said, “These restrictions reflect the arbitrary and discriminatory approach this administration has taken toward immigration policy from day one.”

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, welcomes hundreds to the Jewish Rally for Refugees in Battery Park, New York, on February 12, 2017. (Courtesy HIAS)

HIAS is a plaintiff in one of the cases challenging the March 6 executive order, International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, which is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on October 10.

“There would not be an American Jewish community if these kinds of restrictions existed during the first part of the 20th century, and while this most recent order does not impact refugee resettlement in the United States, it’s certainly a troubling sign for the direction we’re headed,” said Hetfield.

The Anti-Defamation League said in Twitter post on the ban that it was “standing firmly against it.”

“The details may be different but the consequences of the latest travel ban will be just as devastating as the earlier ones,” the ADL said in an accompanying statement. “This new proclamation, like the first two travel bans, tear families apart and runs counter to our values as a nation that has stood as a beacon of hope for people around the world.”

The left-wing group J Street issued a statement in which it said it “strongly opposes the latest iteration of President Trump’s travel ban.”

“This updated executive order continues to be an unacceptable affront to our Jewish and American values,” J Street wrote. “As the descendants of immigrants, many of whom came to the United States seeking refuge from persecution, we recognize these bans for what they are: A betrayal of our country’s proud legacy of welcoming immigrants.”

Liberal social action group Bend the Arc said the ban was clearly bigoted.

“President Trump’s latest attempt at a ‘Muslim ban,’ like all the others, undermines fundamental American and Jewish values with its explicit bigotry and xenophobia,” Stosh Cotler, the chief executive of Bend the Arc Jewish Action said in a statement. “These immoral restrictions, which make no actual contribution to protecting our country, send an unmistakable message to Muslims and immigrants in the United States and around the world: ‘You are not welcome here.’”

Critics said the inclusion of some countries appeared to be largely symbolic and intended to combat perceptions that the ban is targeting Muslims.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement: “President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”

People taking part in a rally to protest restrictive guidelines issued by the US on who qualifies as a close familial relationship under the Supreme Court order on the Muslim and refugee ban, at Union Square in New York, June 29. (AFP/EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ)

As for the previous version, which expired on Sunday, the Supreme Court on Monday announced it would cancel arguments scheduled for next month to give both sides time to consider the implications of the new one. They have until October 5 to weigh in.

Trump’s efforts to restrict entry into the US have been the subject of lawsuits almost since the moment he announced the first travel ban in January, and the latest version is sure to attract new legal challenges — though experts are divided on how they might fare.

Administration officials have stressed the latest version is the result of a lengthy process, and based on an objective assessment of each country’s security situation and willingness to share information with the US.

The restrictions are based on new baseline factors such as whether countries issue electronic passports with biometric information to prevent fraud and report information about potential terror threats. That baseline was shared with countries across the globe, and they were given 50 days to comply.

Those that failed to satisfy the “objective process of measuring whether countries met the baseline” are now subject to new restrictions.

The countries that ultimately were included on the list fall into three basic categories, officials said.

Some, like Iran and Syria, pose legitimate national security threats to the US and refuse to cooperate with US consular investigations.

Another category includes countries like Yemen and Libya, where local authorities have sought to be as cooperative as possible but lack full control over their territory and the basic ability to provide the information the US wants. In those cases, officials said, the US tried to stress that inclusion on the list wasn’t an indictment of those nations’ commitment to fighting terrorism.

The final category includes countries like North Korea and Venezuela whose citizens don’t necessarily pose a major threat to the US but where the administration wanted to send a message that the government’s broader actions are unacceptable.

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