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Supreme Court’s Muslim ban decision sparks anger from refugee advocates

Refugees who lack “bona fide” relationships will be unable to enter the United States.

A Syrian refugee holds her brother as she walks at an informal refugee camp, at Al-Marj town in Bekaa valley, east Lebanon. CREDIT: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
A Syrian refugee holds her brother as she walks at an informal refugee camp, at Al-Marj town in Bekaa valley, east Lebanon. CREDIT: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Numerous advocates and organizations slammed the Supreme Court’s decision to review and partially reinstate President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, arguing that its impact on refugees would be devastating.

In an unsigned decision Monday morning, the judicial branch agreed to hear the case — which targeted travelers from Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria along with all refugees — in October. In a victory for Trump, the Court also said it will allow the ban to temporarily take effect, with an exception: those who have a “bona fide relationship” with U.S. nationals will be exempt, something that many organizations say could have serious implications for refugees.

“The Court’s decision threatens damage to vulnerable people waiting to come to the U.S.: people with urgent medical conditions blocked, innocent people left adrift, all of whom have been extensively vetted,” David Miliband, president of International Rescue Committee (IRC), said in a statement. “We urge the Administration to begin its long-delayed review of the vetting process and restart a program which changes lives for the better.”

A record 65.6 million people are currently displaced worldwide, many of whom are fleeing the six countries singled out by the ban. Syria is among the most dangerous — the nation’s ongoing civil war has led to massive internal displacement, along with more than 5 million refugees currently seeking asylum elsewhere.

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European countries like Germany are housing many refugees, and Canada’s government has said it is working to take in more. But in the United States, the story has been different. While refugees are heavily vetted before entering the country, the Trump administration argues that they pose a security threat, a talking point the president repeated in a statement greeting Monday’s decision.

“Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security,” Trump said. “It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.”

But advocates say that argument has no basis in actual fact. “There is no reasonable national security justification for these measures,” said Eric Schwartz, President of Refugees International and former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. “More importantly, the suspension of refugee resettlement will impact the most vulnerable of the world’s populations, including refugee women and girls, survivors of violence and torture, and refugee children, among many other groups at considerable risk.”

Others noted that in allowing parts of the ban to resume, the Supreme Court sent a message to Muslim communities in particular. A statement from Johnathan Smith, legal director of non-profit advocacy group Muslim Advocates, harshly criticized the ban’s religious slant.

“We are deeply troubled by the court’s decision to allow portions of the Muslim ban to move forward,” said Smith, who emphasized that human rights violations were all but inevitable. “The court’s decision sends the wrong message to the Muslim community, the nation, and the world.”

While many organizations expressed alarm, some suggested that the decision had a silver lining.

In a statement, Lavinia Limón, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCRI), emphasized that her organization was optimistic.

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“We have an existing relationship with incoming refugees, certified and arranged through the Department of State, we understand the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that their continued arrival will not be affected,” she said. “Travel plans are in process, beds have been made and staff around the country plan to meet new Americans at the airports today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks and months. Refugees fleeing persecution built this country, make it stronger and our promise to them will continue unabated.”

Much of that optimism comes from the decision’s wording — namely, its requirement that those with relationships and ties to people in the United States be allowed to enter the country.

“What’s interesting is that almost all refugees have ties here,” Liz Sweet, managing attorney for HIAS, a nonprofit working on refugee resettlement, told ThinkProgress. “Such a small number of refugees globally are chosen for resettlement in the United States that they often have close family members here.”

Those ties mean organizations like HIAS are somewhat relieved by the decision, as it theoretically means many refugees will be allowed in for the time being. Still, a lot depends on how those ties are defined, meaning the full impact of the decision won’t be clear for some time.

“It’s going to be important to see how this is implemented by the admin,” Sweet said. “We certainly will be watching.”

Others were less heartened. Church World Service, a cooperative ministry of 37 Christian denominations and communions providing refugee assistance, slammed the Supreme Court’s decision in a blistering statement questioning the morality of the action.

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“Some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees have no ties to the United States — including families with children fleeing war, violence and persecution,” the statement read, arguing that any preconditions for entry put lives in danger. “Enabling any variation of President Trump’s discriminatory refugee and Muslim ban to go into effect — even temporarily — is an imprudent, devastating blow to our fundamental values of justice and humanity.”

Banning refugees from entering the country has long been a promise of Trump’s. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he pledged to suspend immigration from “places like Syria and Libya”, both of which are among the banned countries. Of refugees, the president promised he would take swift action, singling out Syria in particular.

“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria, as part of this mass migration,” he said at the time, “that if I win, if I win, they’re going back.”