The US Supreme Court has empowered Trump’s Islamophobia

By allowing Trump’s third travel ban to take effect, the US Supreme Court has aided the rise of Islamophobia in the US.

Trump Muslim ban protest
The Supreme Court ruling generates considerable momentum for an administration entirely wed to carrying institutional Islamophobia forward on the domestic front, writes Beydoun [Tony Gentile/Reuters]

On Monday, December 4, the United States Supreme Court allowed the third version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to take immediate effect. The latest rendition of what is broadly called the “Muslim Ban”, a campaign promise that Trump delivered on three times during the first 10 months of his presidency, limits entry of nationals from six Muslim majority nations (Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen) and two additional states on which the order has minimal practical effect (North Korea and Venezuela). 

The Supreme Court decision is a limited one, overturning the lower court’s restraining orders on the Ban until it is able to rule on the constitutional claims. However, it is significant on several accounts.

The decision is striking in that it is the first time the federal courts, and indeed the Supreme Court, has endorsed this version of the Ban in its entirety. The ruling revives and reinstates the Ban as standing immigration policy. The Supreme Court stay foreshadows a ruling on the constitutional challenges made against the Ban that may allow it to stand for the duration of the Trump administration.  

The Supreme Court decision enables, only days after Trump issued a series of inflammatory tweets featuring the British ultra-nationalist Jayda Fransen, an administration bent on robustly institutionalising Islamophobia into their domestic and foreign policy programmes. The decision is a major victory for Trump’s broader Islamophobia campaign, which he mounted as a candidate and now moved forward as president, and a major blow for the more than 100 million Muslims in the six restricted states, and the six to eight million living in the US.

Impact on Muslims from prohibited states

The Executive Order that will go into immediate effect, until the Supreme Court rules on the merits of the constitutional challenges. The Ban has a limited effect on nationals from the two designated non-Muslim majority states, and as stated by law scholar Peter Marguiles, “North Korea is a red herring … since its nationals aren’t free to leave, and Executive Order-3 only affects a few Venezuelans related to government officials there.” 

Critics (pdf), including myself, have pointed to the inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela (in the third Travel Ban) as intentional strategy on the part of the Trump Administration to overcome the First Amendment Establishment Clause challenge, holding that it violates the “separate of church and state” mandate by facially discriminating against Muslim foreign nationals; and castigating an entire religion, Islam, as a faith conflated with “terrorism”.

The Ban, however, has a disparate effect on nationals from the six Muslim-majority states. It is not monolithic in effect. The Ban prohibits all immigrants (those intending on becoming legal residents) and temporary visitors holding tourist and business traveller visas from Chad, Libya, and Yemen. The scope of the Ban is far broader for Syria, restricting all immigrants and temporary visitors, regardless of the nature of the visa. Iranian immigrants are categorically barred by the Ban, while only holders of student and scholar (F, J, and M) visas may be permitted entry. Finally, Somali immigrants as a class are restricted from entry, while all visa holders will be subject to extra scrutiny.  

This is the state of immigration policy for the foreseeable future. And from the perspective of nationals from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen seeking to join loved ones stateside, embark on studies or research, or commence a new career or life in the US, it is tantamount to a Muslim Ban. 

Impact on Muslims in the United States

The Supreme Court decision will have a direct and collateral effect on Muslim populations currently in the US. For visa holders from the restricted states, leaving and coming back into the country will be encumbered by more intense vetting and questioning at points of entry (airports, land checkpoints). Although the Ban does not cover lawful residents (green card holders) and American citizens that originally hail from the restricted states, it drives a wedge between them and family members, friends and loved ones. For instance, children living in the US cannot send for their parents for a visit, and elderly family members needing immediate medical attention will be denied entry. Most direly, those with family and friends in the three nations ravaged by war and instability, Libya, Syria and Yemen, can do little while their loved ones face grave danger. 

Beyond these immediate ripples, the Supreme Court ruling generates considerable momentum for an administration entirely wed to carrying institutional Islamophobia forward on the domestic front and intensifying the “War on Terror” in the heart of Muslim communities across the United States. And namely, plans to advance and enhance counter-radicalisation policing programs that, like the Ban, link Muslim identity to the possibility of a national security threat. With regard to domestic surveillance, the theoretical safeguards attached to citizenship may do little to protect Muslims suspected of “homegrown radicalisation”. 

The presumption that Muslim identity alone is tied to suspicion of “terrorism” is the foundation of modern Islamophobia. An Islamophobia, of which the most threatening form, is hardly the vile rhetoric spewed by bigots or the violence unleashed by private citizens, but rather, the executive actions signed by presidents and affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Trump is no outlier with regard to championing Islamophobia, and the Supreme Court decision manifests that the highest halls of state power may not echo the brazen terms of his animus, but are in agreement with his vision.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.