A bill that limits presidential authority to suspend or restrict immigrants from coming into the country has remained in the Senate for months without review.
Despite the House of Representatives passing hundreds of bills—many of them with bipartisan support—the Senate led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been the place good legislation goes to die. Here’s a closer look at one bill that could save refugee lives, proving once again the pivotal role the Georgia Senate runoff races will play for the future of President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
President Donald Trump spent his time on the campaign trail and in office spewing racist comments and hatred for those who did not fit his ideal American image. He promised his followers that he would do everything in his power to prevent immigrants from “sh-thole countries” from coming to the United States.
Limiting immigration has been a priority for his administration from the very beginning.
Sorting Fact From Fiction: Sign Up for COURIER’s newsletter.
In January 2017, days after Trump officially took office, he signed an executive order that put immigration and travel restrictions on seven predominantly Muslim countries. He suspended entry for all Syrian refugees indefinitely and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the country for 120 days.
Although states and human rights organizations filed lawsuits attacking parts of the executive order as unconstitutional, the Muslim ban in its third version is still in effect today, with additional countries and different restrictions for each. Trump signed a presidential proclamation on January 31, 2020, which expanded the countries affected by the ban. To the original list of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela, the administration added Burma, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania.
The proclamation does not apply to non-immigrant visas, which are typically issued to tourists, visitors, and students. Instead, it singles out people using immigrant visas to keep their families together in the US.
In July, House Democrats responded by passing the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act, or the NO BAN Act, which limits presidential authority to suspend or restrict immigrants from coming into the country. The bill also acknowledges that religious-based discrimination has no place in lawmaking.
“Since our nation’s founding, no chamber of Congress has passed a bill of this scale that protects the rights of American Muslims,” Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera said in a statement. “This is a vote on whether Congress believes America is a place where people of all religions and races can live free and equal lives.”
The legislation would require the State Department to determine that a restriction would “address specific and credible facts that threaten U.S. interests such as security or public safety” before it could be implemented, according to the text of the bill. It would force the current order to be revised, resulting in several countries having the ban lifted.
This cannot happen, however, until the bill is heard on the Senate floor.
But like so many bills passed by the House in the last four years, the NO BAN Act landed on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has remained there for months on end without review. Nearly five months have elapsed since the House passed the bill.
In that time, Nigerians have been fighting police brutality and state apathy in investigating recorded acts of terror. Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar have been continuously subject to a heinous genocide. And many others in the restricted countries have suffered religious and ethnic persecution.
Advocates for the bill say delaying the bill from reaching the president’s desk is beyond inhumane.
Olamide Yusuf, 21, is currently in the US on an F-1 visa from Nigeria. As a student, he is not affected by the ban; yet, people he knows cannot apply for immigrant visas. “It impacts families that are seeking better living conditions greatly. A lot of them work hard to gain these visas because Nigeria is just not a good place to grow,” Yusuf told COURIER.
America has long lauded itself as a land of opportunity, a melting pot of diverse backgrounds, and a safe haven for all. Passing the NO BAN Act, advocates point out, is a start to larger immigration reform and a first step toward repairing the national image as a beacon to all.