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Sarsour v. Trump: Palestinian-American Activist Sues the President to Overturn Muslim Ban

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We turn now to Sarsour v. Trump—a sweeping lawsuit the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed Monday challenging Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees from entering the United States and banning entry into the U.S. to all 218 million citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The lawsuit calls Trump’s ban a "Muslim Exclusion Order." It argues the executive order is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. We speak to the lead plaintiff, Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who was also co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Sarsour v. Trump, a sweeping lawsuit the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed Monday challenging President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees from entering the United States and banning entry into the U.S. to all 218 [million] citizens from seven Muslim majority nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The lawsuit calls Trump’s ban a "Muslim Exclusion Order." It argues the executive order is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist, lead plaintiff in the case. She helped organize the Women’s March on Washington, as well.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Linda. We last saw you at the beginning of that march, the day after the inauguration, a march that trumped the Trump inauguration, the crowd three times, I think—

LINDA SARSOUR: Yeah, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: —was the size. But you’re suing Donald Trump now, along with a number of other plaintiffs. Explain what’s the basis of the suit.

LINDA SARSOUR: Well, the basis, first of all, is that we believe that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional. We also believe that there is some preference of one religion over another, which also violates the Constitution. And we actually believe we have standing now, as we saw the acting attorney general fired by Donald Trump, who said that she would not defend something that she felt was indefensible and unconstitutional.

As a lead plaintiff, as you know, there’s a lot of Jane and John Does on there, which are being protected for their legal types of status that they have, but we have anywhere from Yemeni, Somali, Sudanese students. We have medical students who are here, who are actually serving the American people. We have religious leaders who are here on R1 visas, who, if travel back to their country, would not be able to come back. I mean, these are—we have American citizens who have wives who are also trying to get visas to come into the United States. We’re separating families. I mean, the stories that we are defending in this lawsuit are a lot more important than my name, but being able to put a public face as an American Muslim on this lawsuit, because we will not allow Donald Trump to get away with this.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Of course, the Trump administration is claiming that it is not a Muslim ban, that it’s a ban on specific countries. And I’m wondering your response to that.

LINDA SARSOUR: Absolutely. I mean, we saw the Muslim registry program back in 2003 under the Bush administration, that actually started with about six countries, and then it went to about 29 countries of origin. So we have seen precedent of making this list a lot larger.

And what’s really interesting is we talk about we want to keep America safe. From who? From Syrian refugees? Since when can somebody tell me a time or a case where there has been a Syrian refugee in this country who has committed an act of terror? And that’s the problem here. There is absolutely no basis or no data that supports this particular list of countries. I don’t support any list of any countries. These refugees, in particular, are leaving war, conflict. They have seen torture and massacre, and they need a safety haven. And we have heard him say, "Well, maybe the Christian refugees," so basically saying we’ll take the Christians and not the Muslims.

And again, all of the campaign rhetoric that we heard, Juan, during the campaign, people said, "Oh, don’t worry, he’s just playing to the base. He just wants votes." Guess what. It’s all been policy prescriptive, and we’ve watched him one executive order after another. And we’re going to stop him now. This is only the first 10 days. We don’t know what’s to come.

AMY GOODMAN: So, former New York mayor and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani appeared on Fox News and explained how Donald Trump planned to institute the executive order barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

RUDY GIULIANI: I’ll tell you the whole history of it. So, when he first announced it, he said, "Muslim ban." He called me up. He said, "Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally." I put a commission together with Judge Mukasey, with Congressman McCaul, Pete King, whole group of other very expert lawyers on this. And what we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger! The areas of the world that create danger for us, which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal. Perfectly sensible. And that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, close adviser to Donald Trump. Linda Sarsour?

LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, Rudy Giuliani is a known racist Islamophobe. And he basically—what he was trying to explain here, that it was a Muslim ban, but they were going to find another way to package it so it didn’t come off unconstitutional. And it is very clear to so many people, including the acting attorney general who has now been fired, that this is unconstitutional. We have had members of Congress, some of whom are not always good on the issue, saying this is unconstitutional. So to tell me that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are going to know more than a woman who has served 27 years in our Department of Justice is absolutely outrageous. So, we are going to continue to challenge this executive order and many unconstitutional executive orders that are to come.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering what you think of the media coverage so far of this issue, because, clearly, the media has been somewhat more confrontational to the Trump administration. But on this issue of the Muslim ban and of Trump’s executive order on immigration, what’s your sense of that coverage?

LINDA SARSOUR: I think, generally speaking, the media has been pretty good on this issue. Why? Because there is no other way to be about it. It’s very clearly unconstitutional. And also, the uprising at airports across the country, you cannot ignore the people rising up against this administration. Since the Women’s March on Washington, we have seen continued mass mobilization in cities across America, where people are just putting a call out and people are coming out in the thousands, whether it be here in New York City, in Atlanta, in Cleveland, Ohio, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles. So, the media can’t ignore that. And I think more of that is to come.

AMY GOODMAN: And Trump is hitting the media hard. And so, a lot of it is clearly self-defense. But on this issue of who he wants to keep out of this country, I want to turn to an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network, when Trump said persecuted Christians will be given priority when it comes to applying for refugee status in the United States.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know, if you were a Christian in Syria, it was impossible, very, very—at least very, very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible. And the reason that was so unfair is that the—everybody was persecuted, in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody, but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair. So, we are going to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: "So, we are going to help them," referring to the Christians. Linda Sarsour?

LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, those claims are all baseless. Yes, of course, there are some Christians that are being persecuted in many countries across the world. But in—let’s take Syria, for example. They were a minority that were protected by the government for a very long time. And for him to say that Christians are seeing more than Syrian Muslims, for example, who are being displaced in the millions, as five—over 500,000 Syrians have been massacred, mostly by the Assad regime. So, to claim that one religion is more persecuted than another, I think, is, first of all, divisive, which we don’t need right now in this world, and I think it’s also untrue.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, the Times says, the U.S. "accepts tens of thousands of Christian refugees. According to the Pew Research Center, almost as many as Christian refugees (37,521) were admitted as Muslim refugees [about 38,000] in the 2016 fiscal year." Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the—another topic related to the recent attack in Quebec, which initially the reports were that it was a Moroccan Muslim. It turns out to have been not only a white nationalist, but someone who is basically a supporter of Donald Trump and of Marine Le Pen, the right-wing leader in France. Your reaction to this attack and how that was initially covered?

LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, it’s not the first time. It’s like the Boston bombing, when we had two young Algerian boys with bookbags, and we called them the "bag men," without absolutely no information on these young men. Same thing is happening right now in Quebec. And what really bothers me about this is that it creates more animosity, and people never see the correction. People see whatever the media first reports. And to know that a white nationalist, a supporter of Donald Trump, walked into a mosque and killed six innocent people, the fact that people don’t feel safe to pray in a country like Canada or now in the United States—we have now security across the mosques. I’m on listservs where people are talking about what types of precautions. I mean, this is not why Muslims or any person of any faith came to the United States. We should feel safe. And the fact that you could be on your knees in this country praying to your god and to be shot is absolutely horrific. I was horrified. And I just the pictures of the victims’ fathers, you know, and people who have contributed to the society who are now not here with us today.

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