Still a Muslim ban

The latest travel ban issued by the Trump administration marks the third time the president has issued proclamations attempting to fulfill a 2015 campaign pledge to stop Muslims from entering the country. Mr. Trump’s first two efforts were blocked in whole or in part by the courts as unconstitutional because they were a clear outgrowth of his stated desire to discriminate against travelers based on their religious beliefs. His most recent revision is hardly an improvement despite its transparent attempt to gloss over the religious animus behind it. It’s a “Muslim ban” in all but name that still unconstitutionally targets people on the basis of religion, and unlike the previous versions, this one is permanent.

Mr. Trump has insisted that restricting Muslim immigration to the U.S. is a matter of national security in the post-9/11 era and that it’s necessary to protect Americans against the possibility of another terrorist attack. The president insists he has the legal right to bar anyone who poses a potential threat to the country from crossing our borders by virtue of his authority as commander-in-chief. But the courts haven’t bought that argument even though judges traditionally have deferred to the executive branch and Congress in matters involving immigration policy. This new version is ostensibly the result of an extensive review of security procedures and the presence of terrorists in 200 countries, yet, miraculously, it arrived at a strikingly similar result.

The latest iteration of his proposed travel ban adds two countries without large Muslim populations (North Korea and Venezuela) to six that are predominantly Muslim — Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen — and the precise rules and restrictions vary somewhat from nation to nation. But there’s little rhyme or reason to the list. Sudan, which the U.S. officially designates as a state sponsor of terrorism, was removed, for reasons the president failed utterly to explain during a press briefing, while Chad, which the Trump administration describes as "an important and valuable counterterrorism partner," was included. The U.S. gets virtually no visitors from North Korea, and the ban on Venezuela applies only to a handful of government officials and their families, so it’s obvious those two additions to the banned list are little more than window dressing to hide the measure’s real intent.

There’s no reason to believe that that refusing entry to travelers from any of the named countries will make Americans safer. A Department of Homeland Security study carried out shortly after Mr. Trump took office found that a person’s citizenship bears little connection to the likelihood of their posing a terrorist threat, and the Cato Institute reports that no Americans had been killed in the U.S. by foreign-born terrorists from any of the countries named in the ban since 1975. The fact is that most of the recent terrorist attacks in the U.S. have been carried out by people who are already American citizens or legal residents. Nor is there any evidence that a ban like the one the president has ordered would have kept out the 9/11 hijackers or prevented any of the deaths caused by terrorist attackers since then.

Given the reality that targeting Muslims won’t make Americans any safer, it’s clear that turning people away at the border based on their religion is a political choice — in this case a particularly cynical one — rather than a national security requirement. It has nothing at all to do with protecting the country. Instead, Mr. Trump has used the issue to pander shamelessly to anti-Muslim prejudice among his aggrieved followers.

That cannot be tolerated in a free society, and we hope the courts ultimately will see past the ruse embodied in this unconstitutional initiative. The Supreme Court postponed hearings on the previous travel ban after the new one was issued, but this policy can’t be allowed to go unchallenged. In his persistence, Mr. Trump demonstrates a brazen contempt for the rule of law and a willingness to pander to people’s worst instincts in order to reap political advantage that is both astonishing and profoundly sad.

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