“Thousands of American citizens have been forced to live apart from their spouses, their lives put on hold. Thousands of children will not get to spend time with their grandparents,” said Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill with Democrat Representative Judy Chu of California.
“Thousands of people have been denied the opportunity to either grieve the passing of a loved one or to celebrate a marriage or a birth.”
Trump campaigned during the 2016 presidential election on a promise to ban Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the country. A week after taking office in January 2017, he signed an executive order suspending the US’s refugee programme and blocking travellers from several Muslim-majority countries.
Hundreds of travellers were detained at US airports and thousands of previously issued visas to the US were revoked, disrupting international air travel and sparking outrage and protests.
The wording and implementation of the order were revised by the Trump administration to meet legal challenges and the so-called “Muslim ban” was upheld by the US Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision. That iteration of the ban included restricted travel for most individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The ban also includes restrictions on North Koreans and some individuals from Venezuela.
In 2018, the US State Department rejected more than 37,000 visa applications due to the ban, up from less than 1,000 the previous year when the restrictions had not fully taken effect.
Supporters of the Democrats’ legislation said Trump’s ban has unfairly targeted Muslims and has separated families.
The administration maintains the ban targets countries that have failed to provide enough information for the proper vetting of prospective travellers.
The Democrats’ bill would amend the US Immigration and Naturalization Act to curtail broad language in present law that allows Trump to suspend the entry of specific groups into the US. The bill is backed by Senator Dick Durbin, the No 2 Democrat in the Senate, and members of the Senate running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Three Muslim members of the House of Representatives – Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib and Congressman Andre Carson – supported the bill at a press conference in Washington, DC.
“When I ran for office I ran on a promise to end the president’s hateful effort to ban a single religion from entering this country,” said Omar, a former refugee from Somalia elected to the House from Minnesota in 2018.
“When I was 12 years old, I myself came here from a refugee camp. It was a difficult journey fleeing a horrible war,” she added. “We spent four years in a refugee camp seeking refuge in the United States. But I came to this country because I believed even as a child the promise of liberty, equality and justice that was the promise of the United States of America.”
“Twenty years later it seems those fundamental ideals are in peril. My birth country is now on the so-called list of countries that banned from coming into the United States,” she said.
Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-American whose son was killed serving in the US Army in Iraq in 2004, joined the politicians and other community group leaders and major US civil rights groups in support of the bill.
“This bill not only imposes congressional oversight on this imperial president and his government but it helps to lift the ban that has shattered so many lives,” Kahn said.
The bill was supported by Farhana Khera, president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Mana Kharrazi, executive director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders.
The bill is expected to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives later this year, but will face opposition from Republican leaders in the US Senate, making prospects for passage unlikely before the 2020 election.