WASHINGTON (CN) — Panning President Donald Trump’s multiple iterations of a travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries as inherently discriminatory, the House voted 233-183 on Wednesday to rescind them and limit the power of future administrations to implement similar policies.
The National Origin Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act, or No Ban Act, effectively ends the bans Trump has issued since taking office in 2017. However, the bill is largely symbolic because it is highly unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate and even more unlikely to be signed by President Trump.
The legislation, sponsored by Representative Judy Chu, a California Democrat, was added to the House’s docket in March, but with the Covid-19 pandemic upending life and business as usual, it was not until Wednesday that lawmakers finally brought the bill up for a vote.
It is the first bill to pass the House that directly addresses Muslim civil rights in America and simultaneously pushes back against a 2018 ruling from the Supreme Court that upheld Trump’s third stab at a Muslim-focused ban.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent at the time that “history would not look kindly upon the court’s misguided decision” to retain any variation of the president’s executive order that was aimed at blocking travelers or asylum seekers from places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Chad.
Sotomayor’s concerns echoed through the House chamber Wednesday. Representative Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee — one of Congress’ most powerful and influential bodies — scorched the high court’s majority ruling, saying it was a decision reached only through overly broad interpretation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Contained within that law is a section granting authority for the president to suspend entry “to all aliens or class of aliens” when they find entry to be “detrimental” to the United States.
But Nadler argued the justices should have ruled that detriment is limited to matters of public health and safety or international stability.
“It was not tended to provide carte blanche authority to the president to ban large categories of individuals without justification or to rewrite the immigration laws with which he disagrees,” Nadler said. “As a result of the Muslim ban, our reputation as a beacon of hope and tolerance from those fleeing persecution has been forever tarnished.”
Beyond rescinding the travel bans, the No Ban Act also prohibits religious discrimination in immigration decisions unless there is a statutory basis, like a provable criminal record, not the presumption of one.
Additionally, the bill stipulates that the State Department and Department of Homeland Security must report any new immigration restrictions to Congress within 48 hours. If they do not, the restrictions would immediately terminate. Reports on any potential harm to those denied entry must also be provided to Congress.
Michigan Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell represent a state with the largest population of Arab Americans in the country. They recalled the chaos and confusion that unfolded at airports in the U.S. when Trump first ordered the travel ban in January 2017.
Visa holders, green card holders and even veterans, including immigrants who assisted U.S. troops in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, were detained indiscriminately, the congresswomen said.
It was clear Muslims were targeted “very irrationally,” Dingell said. Tlaib was even more blunt, calling the bans “racist” and “federal endorsements of anti-Muslim rhetoric and discrimination.”
House Republicans like Andy Biggs of Arizona, leader of the libertarian-leaning House Freedom Caucus, pushed back on the racist label.
“Was it xenophobic or racist or hateful when the Obama administration implemented travel bans to the same nations? Was it?” he asked, throwing his hands up. “No. Nor is it here either. That kind of language is meant to incite public ridicule and distract from the real issue.”