Leaders in Maine’s immigrant communities said that in its Monday ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court left President Donald Trump too much authority to block entry by Muslims and played into the recruitment narrative of religious extremists, who say the country is anti-Muslim.
Trump is proposing to at least temporarily block travel to the U.S. from six mostly Muslim countries — Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — as well as prevent refugees from entering the country.
“We do disagree with the court decision, because we feel it’s still religious discrimination,” said Elmuatz Abdelrahim, co-founder and officer of the Lewiston-based New Mainers Alliance, a U.S. citizen who was born in Sudan.
While the nation’s highest court ruled Monday the ban cannot be enforced against foreign nationals who have family already in the United States, among other exceptions, it left much of Trump’s plan in place, at least while the larger court case over the ban’s constitutionality plays out.
Mahmoud Hassan, president of the Portland-based Somali Community Center of Maine, said the family exemption “softens the blow.” But he said the decision left unclear what documentation would be required to prove a family connection in the U.S., leaving the Trump administration flexibility to set unreasonably high standards of proof for populations it wants to stop.
“What we don’t know is how [the government] is going to define ‘a credible claim of a family relationship,’ what kind of evidence they’re going to require to prove that,” said Susan Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland. “Refugees are very vulnerable. They’ve already been through the most strenuous vetting process we have. They’ve been going through that for a number of years and they may be almost all the way at the end of the process. Now they have to meet this new evidentiary requirement, and they may not always know where their families are in the United States.”
Hassan said he understands the need for thorough screening of individuals seeking to enter the United States, but said “that’s already been happening.”
“This ruling now empowers customs agencies and enforcement agents to pick and choose what [documentation] they’ll require, and my fear is that they’ll discriminate based on religion,” he said.
“That’s a fear, that the administration, among other things, will try to find different ways to minimize access,” agreed Abdelrahim. “I can envision the administration reducing the amount of staff and funding to impede the processing of applications, for instance.
“I feel it’s damaging to the image of the United States and I think it will be used by extremists to recruit people, to say ‘We’re being targeted by the United States and we need to fight them,’” he continued.
The Somali population in Maine is estimated to be about 12,000 people, while the Sudanese community is nearly 4,000, although many of the Sudanese here are from South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and is not listed in Trump’s travel ban.
Trump has pledged to implement a 90-day ban on travelers from the six mostly Muslim countries listed, as well as a 120-day ban on all refugees, within 72 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether the overall travel ban is constitutional this fall.