President Joe Biden rescinded former President Donald Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, fulfilling his pledge to Muslim and immigrant advocacy groups and allowing families to reunite in the U.S. after years apart.
The executive order was among many signed on Wednesday, his first day in office.
Nearly four years ago, Trump issued an executive order limiting entry for people from seven Muslim-majority nations, a follow-up to his campaign promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
After Trump signed his order, thousands of people went to airports across the country to protest the ban, calling it discriminatory. The original ban was challenged repeatedly in federal court, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld a tweaked version of the order in 2018.
Over the course of Trump’s presidency, the ban was revised and expanded. In February 2020, he added several African countries to the list ― a move that Democrats and immigration advocates called racist.
The impact of the ban has been chilling. For years, thousands of families have been separated. Married couples were unable to reunite and parents missed the births of their children. Students could not attend college and people could not receive medical treatment in the U.S. One study found that women from travel ban countries were more likely to give birth prematurely.
More than 42,000 people tried to come to the U.S. and were barred under the ban, according to a 2019 analysis of State Department data by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. At least 3,460 parents were separated from their American children.
The number of Muslim refugees admitted into the country between 2016 and 2018 shrank by 91%. Of those refugees who resettled in the U.S. in 2018, 70% were Christian. Only approximately 15% of admitted refugees were Muslim.
Two and a half years passed before two congressional subcommittees held a hearing on the travel ban in September 2019. That hearing highlighted the proposed National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act, or No Ban Act ― a bill that would terminate the ban and prohibit any similar laws.
The bill finally passed the Democrat led-House of Representatives in July 2020; it did not get a vote in the then Republican-controlled Senate. While Biden’s executive order has now repealed the ban, Muslim advocacy groups are still pushing for an amended version of the legislation to prevent a future president from issuing a comparable ban.
Families separated by the ban have expressed optimism and said they’re hopeful their loved ones will be granted a second chance at entry under the Biden administration. The new administration has to deal with the backlog of case denials ― which could take months or even years ― while ensuring that approved immigrants can arrive in the U.S. safely amid the ongoing travel limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.