The Muslim Ban: It’s Been Done Before (a Lot)

Presidents since Carter have barred certain groups of foreigners — more than 20 times

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 17 Jun 2016 at 12:12 PM

Citing authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the president moves to ban certain foreigners from entering the United States in order to counter human rights abuses in Syria and Iran.

A first 100 days action taken by a future President Trump?

Try President Obama, who issued the proclamation on April 23, 2012. He cited his authority under Section 212(f) of the immigration law to prohibit entry of people from Iran and Syria using computer technology to commit human rights abuses or threaten U.S. national security interests.

Presidents since Jimmy Carter have routinely used the immigration law to keep certain foreigners out. A review of records turns up almost two dozen instances.

“I hereby find that the unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens who meet one or more of the criteria in section 1 of this order would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of such persons,” he stated in the order.

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No vote of Congress was required. No court order was necessary. It was one of six times Obama has barred certain classes of foreigners from entering the United States. Each time, he asserted his authority using the same provision of the law that Donald Trump has vowed to use in order to temporarily suspend entry by individuals from high-risk areas of the world. The proposal from the presumptive Republican nominee for president has prompted a deluge of outrage from critics and detractors who argue the president could not unilaterally ban a large class of people.

“The Constitution is the Constitution — it doesn’t work that way,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) told The Huffington Post.

Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe told NBC News in December — after Trump proposed a more sweeping ban targeting Muslims, generally — that the "unprecedented proposal would violate our Constitution."

Certainly, no modern president has taken action as far-reaching as what Trump proposes. But presidents since Jimmy Carter have routinely used the immigration law to keep certain foreigners out. A review of records turns up almost two dozen instances.

Language in the statute is quite broad:

"Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate."

"The authority is very broad, and Congress intended it to be to act in urgent situations," said Jessica Vaughan, a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

"The authority is very broad, and Congress intended it to be to act in urgent situations," said Jessica Vaughan, a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vaughan said it is ironic that Obama has claimed legal authority to shield large classes of illegal immigrants from deportation while at the same time failing to address "real and articulable threats" coming from the outside. She said presidents have acted to prohibit entry by all sorts of people.

"We keep out Nazis and anarchists, and communists at one point … It's clearly constitutional," she said. "We ought to be spending our time coming up with a workable plan, not just rejecting the option."

In response to the hostage crisis following the Iranian Islamic revolution, Carter in April 1980 ordered that — with a few exceptions for humanitarian reasons — visas of Iranian citizens would not be renewed.

Ronald Reagan used the authority four times to bar members of the Cuban government and Communist Party, to prohibit Cubans more generally except for certain exceptions, to block foreigners arriving at the borders by sea, and to ban Panamanians implementing the policies of strongman Manuel Noriega. That order also applied to their families.

Bill Clinton acted to ban Haitians — plus relatives — involved in a 1991 coup. He targeted people who supported Bosnian Serb forces, members of the Sudanese government, and armed forces and members of the military junta and their families in Sierra Leone. Later, he issued a broader ban of "anyone who plans, engages in, or benefits from the activities that support the Revolutionary United Front or otherwise impedes the peace process in Sierra Leone, and their families."

George W. Bush issued six proclamations as president. Targets included anyone intimidating refugees from returning home in the Western Balkans and those responsible for "ethnic cleansing" in 1991. Members of the government of Zimbabwe and people with business dealings with the government also had their U.S. privileges revoked.

Others targeted under Bush included people tied to the governments of Belarus and Lebanon, anyone involving in bribing U.S. officials, and foreign government officials who impede efforts to combat human trafficking.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Trump should narrow his focus.

"Our view is that we should not have blanket bans based on religion or national origin," he said. "It is legitimate to ban people based on ideology … We've done that many, many times."

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  4. Donald Trump Muslim Ban
  5. Donald Trump Muslims
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