The House on Wednesday voted largely on party lines to advance a bill that limits the president’s authority to issue travel bans on foreign nationals from entering the United States.
House Democrats introduced the bill, known as the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants (NO BAN) Act, as a response to former President Donald Trump’s 2017 travel ban that restricted entry for foreign nationals from several terror-prone countries. The initiative drew opposition from Democrats and activists, who dubbed the measure as a “Muslim ban” because Trump’s initial order largely named countries with a predominantly Muslim population.
The Trump administration has all along pushed back against such a characterization, arguing it was unfair and discriminatory as more than 40 Muslim-majority countries weren’t included in the ban, and that the ban was focused on national security rather than religion.
The order was modified several times to remove and include different countries in the action. The U.S. Supreme Court also upheld a version of the ban in a 7-2 decision in 2017.
On Wednesday, the bill for the NO BAN Act passed with a 218-208 vote, with all Democrats and one Republican voting to pass the bill. It will advance to the Senate for consideration.
This is the second time the bill has passed a Democrat-controlled House. In 2020, the Democrat measure also passed the House on partisan lines.
The purpose of the NO BAN Act, according to the sponsors of the bill, is to prohibit religious discrimination in immigration-related executive decisions unless that discrimination is allowed under law.
If the president determines a need to temporarily restrict entry of any foreign nations, he or she must consult with the State Department to assess whether the restriction would address the specific threats to U.S. interests such as national security or public safety, the bill summary states.
The bill also sets out guidelines for crafting such restrictions, including requiring a “compelling” reason for the government to intervene and to ensure that any bans are narrowly applied in the least restrictive manner.
The State Department and Department of Homeland Security must also inform Congress about any proposed restrictions 48 hours before it is imposed.
The law also provides a legal cause of action to allow individuals in America to sue in a federal court if they are harmed by the restriction.
“The NO BAN Act strengthens the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. And it restores the separation of powers by limiting overly broad executive action to [issue] future religious bans, which are fundamentally un-American,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on the chamber floor in support of the bill.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the main sponsor of the bill, in her speech on Wednesday criticized Trump’s policy and sought to characterize the former president’s action as a “religious” ban.
“We must make sure no president is ever able to ban people from coming to the U.S. simply because of their religion,” she told the House chamber.
Meanwhile, the bill has faced opposition from most Republicans who argue that the bill would undermine the president’s ability to take urgent action to protect America’s national security and public safety.
“President Trump invoked this authority against countries that were hotbeds of international terrorism and were not cooperating with the united states in providing basic information about travelers coming from these countries,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said. “Now, the left calls it a Muslim ban. What nonsense.”
“The president’s ability to protect against threats, negotiate security protocols, and when necessary, to retaliate against discriminatory actions by other actions depends on his having this power at his immediate disposal. This bill instead forbids the president from taking action until he can show it’s the weakest possible measure at his disposable.”
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also criticized the effort, arguing that there are more pressing issues that Congress should be addressing, such as the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. Southern border rather than “wasting its time on recycled legislation.”
“We simply need to return to commonsense border security policies that work. We need to finish the wall and deploy technology to the border. We need to fully reinstate the Remain in Mexico policy and maintain the robustly implemented Title 42 authority. We need to require a negative COVID test before releasing migrants. I think that would be common sense,” McCarthy said.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to undo Trump’s policy. Biden accused his predecessor of discriminating against Muslims and African nations. Trump’s actions focused on a small number of majority-Muslim countries and some African countries.
The countries affected by the travel ban prior to Biden’s revocation were Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Venezuela, and Yemen.
Trump in a statement this month urged Biden to reinstate the travel ban as part of efforts to defend the United States against terrorism.
“If Joe Biden wants to keep our Country safe from Radical Islamic Terrorism, he should reinstitute the foreign country Travel Ban and all of the vetting requirements on those seeking admission that go with it, along with the refugee restrictions I successfully put in place,” Trump said in a statement.
“To keep terrorism and extremism out of our country, we need to have smart, commonsense rules in place so we don’t repeat the many immigration mistakes made by Europe, and the USA prior to ‘Trump.’”
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.
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