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Trump's Immigration
Ban: What Happens
Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries set off a
political chain reaction that will rumble through Washington for weeks, if not months. Three days after it was
signed, the order resulted in the firing of acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, who refused to defend it. This,
in turn, prompted Senate Democrats to boycott or delay confirmation hearings scheduled for several of Trump’s
cabinet nominees, including his pick for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. The controversy over
the order is also likely to spill into the battle over Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

The legality of Trump’s action will first be tested in U.S. district courts, where challenges are mounting by the day.
At issue is whether the order discriminates against Muslims based on their religion, or if it’s simply a form of
“extreme vetting” of refugees, as Trump claims. The federal court cases raise questions about bedrock
constitutional provisions such as “due process” and “equal protection,” as well as a part of the First Amendment
known as the establishment clause, which prohibits laws favoring one religion over another.

In a 1982 ruling involving regulation of charitable solicitations by religious groups, the Supreme Court explained
that the “clearest command” of the establishment clause “is that one religious denomination cannot be officially
preferred over another.” Trump’s order appears to run afoul of that by establishing preferential treatment for
refugees identified with “a minority religion”—Christianity—in their home country.

As protests grew in the wake of his signing the executive order, Trump issued a statement on Jan. 29 saying, “This
is not about religion. This is about terror and keeping our country safe.” Yet in an interview, Trump said Christian
refugees would be given priority to enter the U.S. Specifically, the Jan. 27 order bans entry for 90 days of
nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. It also
bans resettlement of Syrian refugees indefinitely and suspends all other refugee resettlement for 120 days. In the
frantic period that followed its signing, as refugees were detained at airports and immigration lawyers and
protesters gathered in baggage-claim areas, four federal judges—in Brooklyn, Boston, Seattle, and Alexandria, Va.
—issued rulings blocking aspects of the order.

Those rulings were provisional and didn’t delve into constitutional issues. Instead, they sought to prevent
deportations or other actions that would harm individuals. Lawyers for those affected will likely return to court in
the coming weeks to flesh out their arguments. Additional suits have since been filed that challenge the order’s
constitutionality, including one on Jan. 30 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and another on the same
day by the state of Washington. Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia have also joined lawsuits challenging the

The Trump administration will send attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice to defend the order in each of
these cases. After firing Yates as acting attorney general, Trump replaced her with Dana Boente, U.S. attorney for
the Eastern District of Virginia, who vowed to fall in line behind the White House.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in challenging the order, described it as a “Muslim ban wrapped in paper-thin
national security rationale.” Dan Siciliano, a law professor at Stanford, says it was “clearly a nationality ban and a
de facto religion ban.”