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House OKs repeal of Trump travel ban decried as anti-Muslim

The House on Wednesday voted to repeal the Trump administration’s travel ban and further restrict the president’s power to limit entry to the U.S., a symbolic victory for Muslim American and civil rights groups.

The bill, which passed the Democrat-controlled House 233-183, had initially been slated for action in March, before the coronavirus forced scheduling changes on Capitol Hill. The measure is unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled Senate, where it has no GOP support. But the bill’s passage by the House still elated advocates who had long pushed for formal action against a travel ban that they see as discriminatory.

“This is a historic moment for Muslims,” Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, one of the groups working in support of the bill, said ahead of the vote.

Passage of the the No Ban Act will “show Muslims, who have been banned and scapegoated by the Trump administration, that we deserve rights and dignity,” Khera added.

Among House Democrats who voted, all supported the bill, while two Republicans among those voting crossed the aisle to vote yes.

The White House noted its opposition to the bill in March, saying in a statement that undoing the travel ban “would harm the national security of the United States” and that the ban has been “central to the Administration’s ongoing efforts to safeguard the American people against the spread of COVID-19.”

In debate ahead of the vote, Democrats repeatedly blasted the travel ban that President Donald Trump first imposed in January 2017. They called it biased against Muslims, whose entry into the country Trump first suggested blocking during his 2016 White House run.

“It will be a proud day for this Congress when we invalidate the president’s infamous and ugly attempt to scapegoat people based on their religion,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said during floor debate ahead of the final vote.

The legislation goes beyond overturning Trump’s travel ban, which was retooled amid legal challenges and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018. The latest version of the ban affects travel from five majority-Muslim nations – Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Syria and Libya – in addition to North Korea and by some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

In addition to overturning the travel ban, the bill the House passed also prohibits religious discrimination in the application of immigration law and constrains the executive branch’s ability to limit entry to the U.S. by certain groups of people.

Conservatives defended Trump’s actions. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said during floor debate that Trump’s restrictions on travel are “not a Muslim ban” but rather a “legitimate travel restriction implemented for the safety of this nation.” He criticized Democrats for relying on a “straw man argument” about religious discrimination while crafting a bill that more broadly restricts presidential authority.

Trump earlier this year added new immigration curbs from six other nations, including majority-Muslim Kyrgyzstan and Sudan, as well as Nigeria, which has the world’s fifth-largest Muslim population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Trump’s Democratic rival in the upcoming presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, vowed Monday to rescind Trump’s travel ban “on day one” if he’s elected. He made the pledge in remarks to a summit focused on Muslim voter turnout.

Muslim American and other civil rights advocates have said Wednesday’s vote in the House would help them keep the pressure on for a future rollback of the policy.

The bill’s passage represents “a huge step forward for Muslims, Africans, immigrants, and everyone who wants to ensure that future presidents cannot use rank prejudice to issue discriminatory bans,” said Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, before the vote.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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