Barrett: The intricacies of the Constitution, Trump’s executive order

Eva Barrett, Columnist

It has undeniably been a busy first week or so for President Donald Trump, and trying to keep up can be exhausting. Since its release last Friday, President Trump’s executive order on immigration and admission of refugees to the United States has been the focus of much administrative and legal confusion.

In this executive order (of the seven published since his inauguration as of press time), Trump has issued a comprehensive ban of visas and asylum for immigrants and refugees with origins in Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Iran and Syria.

Additionally, Syrian refugees have been banned indefinitely from receiving visas. Since its release, approximately 90,000 people worldwide have been affected. Due to the unclear scope of the executive order, both green card and visa carriers from predominantly Muslim nations, including those not singled out in the order, were detained at various international airports.  

Of the executive orders and memoranda published by the Trump administration up to date, it is this executive order that has gathered the most national and global attention, for good reason. In the midst of this administrative confusion is a much deeper question regarding the legality of the executive order. So far, there appear to be three ways in which the executive order is in violation of one or more federal laws or statutes.

The first of these is the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Though Trump did not specifically underscore any religious group in the language of the executive order, the order itself has become known fittingly as a “Muslim ban.”

For example, section five of the order states that refugees affected by religious persecution would receive priority status for visa admission, given that the person seeking asylum was a persecuted religious minority in their nation. Many legal and political scholars, including National Public Radio Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson, argue that this clause is referring, in coded language, to the Christian subset of the predominantly Muslim nations listed in the order.

Furthermore, cabinet member Rudy Giuliani has even confirmed that the executive order was an effort to find a legal wording for a comprehensive “Muslim ban.”

The second of these comes from the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, stating that visas may not be denied based on nationality, race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. Interestingly, it was this federal statute that President Trump used to support his executive order on immigration, even though the law contains language that is counterintuitive to his executive order.

The third of these is the “due process” clause of the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Since the United States Constitution also applies to foreign nationals, many who were affected did not have any formal warning or opportunity to seek counsel. Nor were they granted a fair trial before being set for deportation, the implementation of the executive order violated their right to due process.

Historically, the judiciary is rarely involved with the operations of immigration law. According to a 2001 article published after the Sept. 11 attacks, immigration cases are treated as administrative law, not criminal law, and are therefore typically handled by Congress.

However, several judges and legal experts, including the former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, have refused to defend the order based on the argument that it is in violation of the Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

In New York, District Court Judge Ann Donnelly issued a restraining order protecting 200 detainees from deportation, thereby temporarily delaying the order’s implementation. Donnelly defended her position by saying that to defend the order would cause “irreparable harm” to those affected. Both Yates and Donnelly’s actions have received a largely positive response from the legal community in the U.S. and abroad.

Yates was promptly fired from her position as Attorney General, and the future for the litigation efforts in response to the executive order remains unclear.

At this moment, federal district judges like Donnelly can only temporarily delay the enforcement of the executive order, and there is no way of knowing now if and when any such case will be brought to the Supreme Court. That being said, given the gravitas of the legal conversation between the directives of our new president and the clauses in our Constitution, it is worth our while to pay attention if and how this bizarre situation will be tackled in court.