President Trump’s latest executive order banning travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries is an unconstitutional Muslim ban that threatens to break up families and prevent Shi’a Muslims from studying their faith with religious scholars, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Muslim Advocates and a coalition of other organizations.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a Yemeni couple in the United States unable to bring two of their children to America under the executive order. Another plaintiff, the Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), is effectively barred under the order from bringing Shi’a scholars into the country to teach its members.
Trump’s order is unconstitutional because it discriminates against the plaintiffs on the basis of their religion and national origin. Given UMAA’s status as the largest organization of Shi’a Muslims in the United States, the lawsuit offers a perspective not found in other lawsuits filed against the order, which has been temporarily blocked nationwide.
In addition to Muslim Advocates, co-counsel in the lawsuit include Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm of Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer.
“No one should be fooled by the latest travel ban,” said Naomi Tsu, SPLC deputy legal director. “President Trump is still trying to deliver on his campaign promise of a Muslim ban. As this lawsuit makes clear, it threatens to wreak havoc in the Muslim community. The Muslim ban is unconstitutional and it must end.”
The Yemeni couple, referred to only as John and Jane Doe in the lawsuit, are living as asylees in the United States while a civil war ravages their home country. The couple could only afford to bring three of their five children to the United States in early 2015. Their two remaining children, young boys, recently fled the violence in Yemen and are waiting abroad while a U.S. Embassy considers their visa applications.
The executive order, however, bans Yemeni nationals from entering the United States for 90 days. And despite a provision that allows for “case-by-case waivers,” the State Department has yet to schedule a consular interview for the boys, which would start such a process. Meanwhile, the couple has not seen their sons in more than two years.
The Universal Muslim Association of America has been unable to bring some of the religion’s highest-ranking scholars to the United States for events, including its upcoming national convention, because most of them live in nations named in the travel ban – effectively depriving the association’s members of the teachings of Islam’s most important scholars.
The current executive order is the second attempt to implement the Muslim ban Trump promised on the campaign trail. It bans travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The earlier order was blocked by the courts. The lawsuit notes that the day the latest ban was temporarily blocked nationwide by the U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii, Trump told the audience at a rally that the ban was a “watered-down version of the first one” and that “we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way.”