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After Supreme Court ruling, how does Trump’s travel ban affect U.S. immigration policy?

The Supreme Court rejected challenges to President Trump’s third travel ban -- aimed mainly at mostly Muslim nations -- in a 5-4 decision. While Trump lauded the ruling, politicians and activists outside the court denounced the decision. Amna Nawaz reports and Judy Woodruff analyzes the arguments and possible future effects with Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal and Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump is tonight celebrating a signal victory on a signature policy of his. The United States Supreme Court today rejected challenges to his travel ban, aimed mainly at mostly Muslim nations.

    The decision was 5-4, with the court's conservative majority upholding any president's wide authority over immigration.

    Amna Nawaz begins our coverage, with a reminder the ruling comes against a backdrop of many months of controversy.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The travel ban was among Donald Trump's first acts as president, and at the White House today, he lauded the Supreme Court ruling that upheld it.

  • President Donald Trump:

    A tremendous success. A tremendous victory for the American people and for our Constitution. We have to be tough, and we have to be safe, and we have to be secure.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Outside the Supreme Court, a different mood.

  • Woman:

    No court decides the parameters of our community's humanity.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Outrage, as politicians and activists denounced the ruling, including one who spoke about her family in Syria being unable to visit the United States.

  • Woman:

    And they have already had to miss my graduation with my bachelor's degree, my graduation with my master's program, and the day I married the love of my life. How many more life moments and milestones will they have to miss?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    As a candidate, Mr. Trump proposed a blanket ban on all Muslims from entering the country.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    One week into his presidency, the first version of a travel ban became policy. There was outrage then, too, at airports across the country, where some foreign nationals were being detained after landing in the U.S.

    That first ban was wide-ranging, blocking most people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. But federal judges intervened to block the president's order.

    In response, the Trump administration made adjustments, and rolled out a second travel ban in march of 2017. That ban took Iraq off the list, excluded green card holders, and people who already had valid visas. But a federal judge blocked that ban too, drawing the ire of the president.

  • President Donald Trump:

    This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Trump administration pivoted again, introducing a third travel ban in September of 2017. This time, Sudan was taken off the list. But North Korea and a small number of people from Venezuela were added to it. The administration also added Chad, then dropped it from the list earlier this year.

    This third version of the travel ban is what the Supreme Court upheld today, a ban already in effect, as justices had allowed it to remain in place while legal challenges were pending.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Writing for the majority today, Chief Justice John Roberts said their decision reflects the results of a worldwide review process undertaken by multiple Cabinet officials and their agencies. But liberal justices decried the ruling.

    Here to explain both sides and the possible future effects, I'm joined by Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal" and Yeganeh Torbati, who covers immigration for the Reuters News Service.

    And we welcome both of you back to the program.

    So, Marcia, start with you on what the justices said. The chief justices essentially upheld this, writing for the majority, saying that a president has broad authority as president to determine what our immigration laws are, and he also wrote about discrimination.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Judy, this was a complicated case.

    And I really urge people to read the opinions on the court's Web site. I'm going to boil it down to basically three questions the justices faced. One, as you just said, the court — the majority found that President Trump didn't exceed his authority under federal immigration law.

    The key provision gave the president broad discretion, and exuded deference to the president. Second issue, did the travel ban discriminate on the basis of nationality in the issuance of visas, again, until federal immigration law? There, the court said there was no limit on the president's discretion.

    And the majority pointed to President Reagan, who blocked immigration of Cuban nationals, President Carter, who suspended visas of Iranian nationals. And he said that if majority — if Hawaii's arguments had prevailed, a president would be unable to respond, say, even to stop noncitizens from coming into the country from a region that was experiencing an epidemic or when we were on the verge of war.

    Finally, did the policy violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause by discriminating on the basis of religion? Here, Hawaii relied very heavily on the president's campaign and post-election statements to show that there was anti-Muslim bias.

    The majority said, OK, we're going to look beyond the text of this policy, and see, even considering those statements, is there a legitimate purpose served by this policy? And the majority said there is. The purpose of this policy is to prevent inadequately vetted noncitizens from coming into the United States, and also to induce countries to improve their practices.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But not finding that it was discrimination based on nationality or religion.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    That's right, exactly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Marcia, you mentioned what the chief justice wrote.

    In a concurring opinion, another conservative justice, Anthony Kennedy, though, did single out President Trump and his remarks.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    He didn't mention him so much by name. But I sort of characterize it as a slap on the wrist, because he spoke directly about religious tolerance and how important it was for government officials to address religious tolerance, support religious tolerance, not only within our borders, but as a nation that leads the world.

    And the chief justice also mentioned this as well. He talked about how, early in our history, presidents did speak about religious tolerance. He went all the way back to President George Washington.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, before I go to Yeganeh, in the dissenting opinion, you had both Justice Breyer, who spoke from the bench, and Justice Sotomayor, who gave an impassioned statement that went on for, what, you said, 20 minutes.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    From the bench, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And there, she did single out president.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    She did.

    And what was so affecting about it was, she read each of the president's statements that the challengers had said showed anti-Muslim bias, one by one, repeating the president's name, Trump, Trump, Trump, and pausing and saying, consider the gravitas of these statements, and that these statements are being made by the current president of the United States.

    She said the travel ban was religious discrimination masquerading as national security. Justice Breyer went off on a different issue, waivers. And I think Yeganeh is going to address that.

    He would like to have sent case back to the lower court to get evidence of whether the federal government is applying waivers the way it says it is. He said that, if it isn't, that's further evidence of religious discrimination.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yeganeh, let's pick it up there, and look at what the immediate effect of this ruling is.

  • Yeganeh Torbati:

    So the immediate effect is the policy that's been in place since around December is going to move forward.

    You will remember, the Supreme Court allowed the travel ban to go forward in full effect in early December, pending its final ruling. And so we have seen now over the last few months the evidence of what the full, you know, travel ban will look like in practice.

    And what that look like — I have calculated some of the numbers. The State Department has been issuing regular visa numbers in terms of how many they're issuing. And under the — the five countries covered by the travel ban are receiving something like an 88 percent drop in the number of non-immigrant visas compared to this time last year and a 94 percent, 95 percent drop in the number of immigrant visas issued to family members of U.S. citizens and the like.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where will that leave those countries going forward?

  • Yeganeh Torbati:

    It looks like, for now, those countries are going to remain on the ban.

    The five countries listed either have no relationship with the United States, and it seems unlikely that they are going to want to improve their information-sharing with the United States. Iran and Syria have fairly hostile relationships with the United States. And the other countries, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, have massive internal conflicts.

    Their governments right now, that's not their focus to improve security information-sharing with the United States. They have civil wars and the like happening at home.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly, for people seeking legal asylum in the United States from those countries, how does this affect that?

  • Yeganeh Torbati:

    So the refugee restrictions are a little bit separate from this travel ban.

    At first, during the first iteration, they were very much connected, but eventually the administration separated those. Separately, we are seeing refugee numbers drastically lower than they were in previous years, and even too low to even hit the cap that had been set by the Trump administration last year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, referring back to what Marcia said about Justice Breyer writing about the waivers, what's the significance of that?

  • Yeganeh Torbati:

    So, the Trump administration, in its own proclamation and before the Supreme Court, repeatedly relied on this issue of waivers, saying that, you know, this travel ban is tailored.

    If you have a significant need, if, for instance, you have a medical emergency or if there's really significant need for you to be in the United States, that we will consider that application and we will — we could issue a waiver.

    But we have talked to dozens and dozens of lawyers of people from these countries, of advocates, and they all to a T. say that this waiver process is very opaque. It doesn't look — it is unclear how many waivers are actually being issued.

    And even people who have significant medical need — for instance, we covered a case of a man in Boston who needed his brother from Iran to come and be a bone marrow donor — he had not been issued a waiver until we wrote about the story. And then, two days later, that happened to him. And so it's very unclear what this process is.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, Yeganeh, you have been following now the reaction to all this throughout in Muslim American community, and the communities representing those countries.

    And, as we heard, there's been a very strong reaction from many Democrats. What are you picking up today?

  • Yeganeh Torbati:

    I think people are disappointed. They feel — members of these communities, of Iranian Americans, Libyan Americans, et cetera, feel that they are a part of this country. And, you know, they were able to come here because there was no ban in place, and they established their lives here in the United States.

    And they feel like this ban discriminates against them. And they don't buy the argument that it's based on national security. They feel like it's sort of a Muslim ban in disguise.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Of course, on the other side, the people supporting the president's position applauding it today.

    Very quickly, Marcia.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Judy, one small — not small point, but one other point about the decision today.

    The court didn't use the magic words overruled. But it did make it clear that the decision of the Supreme Court back in 1944 upholding the internment of Japanese Americans Korematsu vs. the United States, had no place in the law or the Constitution of the United States.

    That's something the descendants of Japanese Americans have wanted the court to say for years, and they finally said it, somewhat ironically, because many of those descendants had filed an amicus brief in the travel ban case asking the court to strike it down because they saw parallels with the Korematsu case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That infamous decision, and coming after all these years.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Yes, all these years. Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Marcia Coyle, Yeganeh Torbati, we thank you both.

  • Yeganeh Torbati:

    Thank you.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Pleasure.

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