Political News In Brief: January 30-February 5

And I thought Trump’s first week as president was tumultuous! This one, his second, is just as raucous, if not more so. News comes at a rapid-fire pace. I’m feeling overwhelmed. So I’ve decided to focus on news that affects our relations with people in other countries, Trump’s travel ban in particular, which continues to outrage. I keep thinking of the (apocryphal) Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”  But there are feel-good moments – and I end with an especially heart-warming one.

TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN REMAINS BLOCKED – FOR NOW

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The Federal District Court in Seattle, led by Judge James Robart, temporarily blocked enforcement of Trump’s travel ban on Friday (Feb 3), one week after Trump signed an executive order that barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. – whether valid visa holders (like international students) or well-vetted refugees (like Syrian families with U.S. sponsors). 

As expected, the Justice Department quickly appealed Judge Robart’s decision. Early Sunday (Feb 5), the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected the Trump administration’s appeal. This rejection means that “travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — as well as vetted refugees from all nations could, for now, continue to enter the country” (“Appeals Court,” NYT).

In short, the Ninth District Court affirmed Judge Robart’s ruling, which stated that the travel ban “adversely affects the states’ residents in the areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel,” including “the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning.” Indeed, it’s estimated that the travel ban affects over 23,000 students who hold visas to study in the U.S. (An article in USA Today gives a break down of foreign student enrollment country-by-country.) 

While the Trump administration lost the first two rounds, it will surely take its case to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has resumed using the same standard policies and procedures on travelers and refugees that existed prior to Trump’s executive order. And immigrant advocates are “encouraging travelers from the affected countries to get on planes as soon as possible” because of the legal battle isn’t over (“9th Circuit Court,” WP; State Dept. reverses,” WP).

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Travelers Previously Blocked from Entering the U.S. Begin Arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport. News of arrivals is beginning to trickle in. Using Twitter, a reporter wrote that a woman from Iraq was the first to pass through customs. Among other first arrivals were at least two Iranians: a college student and a research scientist (“Travelers,” WP). In another article, 40 Iranians were reported to have arrived in Boston on one flight, as well as at least one Syrian women at Dulles International, who reunited with her son and his wife, both doctors (“A race,” WP). 

More stories about arrivals from the previously banned countries are surely forthcoming. Including this one, just in from NPR: “Airport officials in Cairo say a total of 33 U.S.-bound migrants from Yemen, Syria and Iraq have boarded flights on their way to the United States.”

 INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS AND DEALINGS

International reaction to Trump’s travel ban was swift and varied. Many were highly critical: for example, Iran called the ban “insulting” and a “gift to extremists,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was “against the core idea of international aid for refugees and international cooperation.” Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the high road and “defended the importance of welcoming refugees,” saying that “those fleeing persecution, terror and war were welcome in Canada.”

Others sided with Trump: for example, Saudi Arabia said it would cooperate. Britain’s far-right leaders cheered. And Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed that every nation should be able to control its own borders – but Turnbull still expects Trump to adhere to the Obama administration’s agreement to accept 1250 of the 3000 refugees Australia holds on island detention centers; Trump called this “the worst deal ever” (“World leaders react,” CNN; “worst call by far,” WP ).

Yet Trump embraces aspects of Obama’s foreign policy. Several surprising and welcome moves this week: Trump warned Israel “not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their current borders” because to do so could hamper “the goal of peace” with the Palestinians. Trump’s chosen ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, “declared that the United States would not lift sanctions against Russia until it stopped destabilizing Ukraine and pulled troops out of Crimea.” And Trump appears to have no plans to rip up Obama’s highly-successful (so far) deal with Iran to dismantle its nuclear program (“Trump embraces,” NYT).

In fact, on Friday (Feb 3), the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on Iran to punish Tehran for its “latest ballistic missile test.” The administration describe the sanctions as “the first in a series of efforts to confront Iran around the globe.” (“U.S. Imposes,” NYT).

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Protest Saturday” Around the World. On Saturday (Feb 4), peaceful rallies were held in major U.S. cities and in cities around the world like Berlin, Barcelona, Jakarta, London, Manila, and Paris. They protested Trump’s policies, particularly his travel ban. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Nerves are especially raw in Germany, a country where fears of war are traditionally high as a result of the devastation the Nazi regime caused during World War II.”

There was even a rally in Janesville, WI, the hometown of Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (next in line for president should something befall both the president and vice president). On a cold, windy Saturday with snow falling in this relatively small city, a group of 500 to 700 protested Trump’s immigration and border security plans. And, according to the county newspaper’s GazetteXtra,  “they railed against what they believe is … Ryan’s solidarity with Trump’s stance on immigrants and border security.” One sign read: “Will swap 1 Donald Trump and 1 Paul Ryan for 20,000 refugees.”

FEEL-GOOD NEWS

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A mosque in the small city of Victoria, TX burned to the ground during last Saturday’s wee hours (Jan 28), just hours after Trump announced his travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. Cause is unknown. But the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. As of Wednesday (Feb 1), almost a million dollars had been raised, in online contributions, for rebuilding.

And in a wonderfully heartwarming gesture, Jewish community members walked into the home of one of the mosque’s founders and gave him a key to the synagogue. The president of Temple Bnai Israel explained, “We have probably 25 to 30 Jewish people in Victoria, and they probably have 100 Muslims. We got a lot of building for a small amount of Jews” (Business Insider).

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Photo Credits: A family of Syrian refugees in Jordan limboed due to Trump’s travel ban, Jane Arraf/NPR; a Virginia Iraqi family welcomes their grandmother home at Dulles International Airport, Astrid Riecken/European Pressphoto Agency; protesters in Janesville, WI against Trump’s policies and Speaker Ryan’s likely complicity, photographer Angela Major; signs by supporters of the Muslim community in Victoria, TX whose mosque burned to the ground, REUTERS / Mohammad Khursheed.

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