The 'Behind the Scenes' Muslim Ban And Its Invisible Victims

On Monday, June 12, 2017, President Trump’s Muslim ban faced another major defeat as the 9th Circuit ruled that the executive order “does not offer a sufficient justification to suspend the entry of more than 180 million people on the basis of nationality.” The Court added, “National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power.”

As we celebrate the triumph of our democratic values, loud and strong, it is imperative to not lose sight of the administration’s back channel exclusion of Muslims by increasingly denying U.S. visas to applicants from Muslim-majority countries. These denials not only impact individuals from the six countries targeted by Trump’s executive orders but also those from “non-banned” Muslim countries. According to the Association of Pakistani Physicians in North America (APPNA), in the past 30 days, the Trump administration has denied visas to almost all Pakistani physicians, applying for visas in Islamabad and Karachi, who have been admitted to medical residency programs in the U.S.

Every single one of the applicants whose visa petition has been denied had recently been issued a U.S. visa, demonstrating that they do not pose a national security threat to the U.S. While in the U.S, they all dutifully observed the terms of their visas and the laws of the country, therefore, remaining free of any violations that could render them ineligible for new visas. Should these physicians be unable to obtain visas before July 1, 2017, they will be unable to enroll in their residency programs.

Despite various inquiries, the State Department has failed to offer an explanation to the applicants or to APPNA. Jan Pederson, an immigration attorney and APPNA’s counsel stated, “As of today, two or three of the physician visas have been issued, but it is too early to tell if there has been a reversal in policy.” Many of the physicians believe that the refusal is based upon being Muslim.

These denials not only hurt the applicants but also the American people at large. Many of these physicians are matched with teaching hospitals located in underserved communities, where they would be caring for our most vulnerable citizens. According to a recent study, by 2030 the United States will face a shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 physicians. There are not enough physicians to keep pace with the growing health demands of the U.S. population. In 2010, more than 1 out of 4 physicians and 16 percent of U.S.’s health care workers were foreign-born. Our health care system relies on foreign-born physicians, and it stands to benefit from their services in meeting our existing and intensifying shortages. This administration’s blanket treatment of individuals from Muslim-majority countries is not only an affront to our constitutional and judicial values, but it also compromises the dignity and the health of our society.

The treatment of Pakistani physicians is part of the larger pattern of visa denials by the State Department. Reportedly in April the number of non-immigrant visas issued to applicants from Muslim-majority countries was down almost 20 percent compared to 2016. This number was higher, at 52 percent, for Iranian applicants. Despite the various temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions, the ban is happening. This begs the question, is the Trump administration’s focus on the judicial battle an attempt to cover up the ongoing “behind the scenes” Muslim ban?

Let us not be consumed by our victories in court. In order to fully quash Trump’s executive orders, we must similarly publicize, scrutinize, and challenge all and any administrative practices that have the same discriminatory impact as the Muslim ban. Discrimination does not have to be blunt to wither away the fabric of our society.