January 30, 2017
Tim Ward



CHARLESTON, W.Va. - We have entered a dark time in America. The Constitution and the basic principles of human decency that form its basis are under assault from the highest office in the land. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at demonizing a religious minority. He created a separate set of rules for people based on how they worship and the accident of where they were born.

President Trump’s executive order bans citizens of certain countries—all Muslim majority— from entering the United States. In December 2015, then-candidate Trump threatened a clearly unconstitutional “total and complete shutdown on Muslims entering the United States.”

The executive order also temporarily suspends admission of refugees—people forced from their countries because of war and persecution. It specifically bans refugees fleeing the carnage in Syria indefinitely. The order makes clear that non-Muslims are to be given preference in refugee claims.

However, the US already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees approved to resettle here. As demonstrated in ACLU litigation last year, all refugees who request resettlement in the US must provide biometric and biographical data and undergo medical screenings. They are screened by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, the Defense Department, the State Department and US Customs and Border Protection. Syrians also go through the Syria Enhanced Review, conducted by analysts knowledgeable about the networks of armed groups in the civil war. Vetting takes 18 to 24 months.

But the fightback has been intense. And proudly, it is being led, in part, by the American Civil Liberties Union. Less than 24 hours after President Trump signed his odious executive order, the ACLU filed several suits challenging it. As lawful immigrants were being turned away and detained at US airports and other entry points, spontaneous demonstrations erupted across the country. Tens of thousands of protestors packed major U.S. airports from coast to coast demanding that people be permitted to enter the country.

One day after Trump signed the executive order, the ACLU and other groups already had several major victories in courts across the nation. In Darweesh v. Trump, a federal judge in Brooklyn prohibited the government, nationwide, from removing from the United States any of the detained travelers from the seven banned countries. In Tootkaboni v. Trump, a federal judge in Boston issued a nationwide order that goes even farther than the ruling in the Brooklyn case by: (1) limiting secondary screening of immigrants to comply with the regulations and statutes in effect prior to the executive order and (2) prohibiting not just removal, but detention, of people who, absent the order, would be legally permitted to enter the country. In Aziz v. Trump, a judge in Virginia ordered that lawful permanent residents being detained at Dulles International Airport be permitted to meet with their attorneys. In Doe v. Trump, a federal judge in Seattle prohibited the government from removing two specific unnamed immigrants. And in Vayeghan v. Trump, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered the government to permit the return of a traveler who had attempted to enter the U.S. pursuant to a valid visa, but had been removed from the country and sent to Dubai pursuant to the executive order.

In addition to the key court victories, approximately 48 hours after issuing the executive order, the Trump administration backtracked and indicated that it would cease regularly detaining lawful permanent residents who were trying to reenter the country.

The following statements can be attributed to Joseph Cohen, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia:

“The executive order President Trump signed on Friday is a thinly-veiled pretext to carry out the odious religious and ethnic discrimination he promised during the campaign. It is antithetical to everything this country represents and violates our founders’ conviction in the United States as a nation where the government does not discriminate against any religion. Good people in West Virginia must stand together and say with one voice that we will not accept this attack on our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, ourselves.”

“We are in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Millions of people are fleeing the violence of places like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where the United States has frequently been engaged in military operations. They are fleeing government oppression, missile attacks and barbaric terrorism. The United States has a long, proud history of taking in these vulnerable communities. So many of our grandparents fled hardship and came here to make a new life. Indeed, many of the earliest European settlers in America were religious refugees including the Pilgrims, Puritans, and Quakers. They fled here and eventually established communities of religious freedom and tolerance. President Trump’s executive order dishonors these foundational American ideals.”

“There simply is no rational basis for the fear that has driven our descent into making bigotry official U.S. policy. We simply fear that which is different. We fear “the other.” This fear is destroying us. And it is being flamed by the nation’s highest office holder who ran a campaign, and is now governing, based on division and hate.”

“We must face this simple truth: because of this executive order, many innocent people will die. With a stroke of the pen, President Trump declared that the United States does not value the lives of Muslims as much as others. This shameful declaration was made in our name. Our fear and hatred is consuming us. There is blood on all of our hands.”

“While the victories in court and on the streets are vitally important accomplishments that will vastly improve life for countless immigrants, the energized resistance to Trump’s actions continues to grow. We are incredibly proud to be a leader of this resistance and we are inspired and awed by its power. We will be on the front lines of this fight for as long as it takes. We hope to see all of West Virginia standing beside us.”