Today, US President Joseph Biden issued an executive order reversing one of the first in a slew of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies put in place by the administration of his predecessor, Donald Trump: the travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority and African countries. Although much remains to be done, this is an important and necessary step to reversing the Trump administration’s abusive policies.
Trump’s travel ban was commonly known as the “Muslim ban” because the original version stemmed from anti-Muslim animus. The ban, which Trump authorized via executive order just days after his inauguration, evolved in response to court challenges and public outrage, but the intent to restrict immigration from nonwhite, Muslim, and low-income countries remained the same. It was the first, and unfortunately not the last, action of an administration that repeatedly categorized large swaths of non-citizens as dangerous because of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion. As a result, many were separated from their families. Ismail Alghazali, a Yemeni American who was separated from his wife and children who were stuck in Yemen, testified in September 2019 that he had yet to hold his baby daughter. Over the course of the next four years Trump’s administration went on to nearly eviscerate the US asylum and refugee system.
Like many others, in late January 2017, I went to the international airport closest to me to join mass protests over the ban. I remember being angry, but also inspired by the thousands of people around the country who joined these protests. Even as new, terrible policies were rolled out, Americans came out to call for families to be together, for children to be protected, and for dangerous detention centers to be shut down. President Biden’s new order is a direct result of Americans’ actions and desire for a new government that will protect immigrants’ and refugees’ rights.
Biden’s administration and Congress will have to do a great deal more than repeal the travel ban to create an immigration system that truly honors the dignity of the people who seek protection and a better life in the US, and the American families and communities who long to welcome them. Let’s hope that the energy that powered the protests over the past four years carries on and pushes the new administration towards that goal.