President Donald Trump has raised the ire of those who object to his limits on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
But he’s not the first president to make a blanket ban on immigrants from a given country.
A Congressional Research Service report written just after Trump was sworn into office, points out that admission to the U.S. has been banned several times since President Reagan. And it’s legal for a president to do so. Even Barack Obama did it.
The Immigration and Nationality Act says provides that individuals outside the United States are “inadmissible”on the grounds of health, criminal record, homeland security, and other concerns, if a president so chooses.
But it also says the president has broad authority to exclude both individual aliens and entire classes of aliens for reasons not mentioned by the INA.
Section 212(f) of the INA is what the president is relying on when he says he has the authority to ban classes of immigrants.
That section says that if the president finds an alien or class of aliens to be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation ban their entry.
A president need not explain to the courts his rationale.
Among those banned from entry in recent years are aliens who appear to be a threat to the security of Libya. Also officials from North Korea are banned. And any who have committed egregious human rights violations.
The statute does not say what the definition of “detrimental” is, nor does it define any legal parameters a president must use in making a blanket declaration.
President Carter cited Section 215(a)— rather than Section 212(f)—when authorizing the revocation of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas issued to Iranian citizens during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Tens of thousands of Iranians were deported under President Carter.
Carter in 1980 declared: “…the Secretary of Treasury [State] and the Attorney General will invalidate all visas issued to Iranian citizens for future entry into the United States, effective today. We will not reissue visas, nor will we issue new visas, except for compelling and proven humanitarian reasons or where the national interest of our own country requires. This directive will be interpreted very strictly.”
According to the Congressional Research report, every president since Reagan has limited immigration using Section 212(f), including:
Ronald Reagan – 5 times
George H. W Bush – 1 time
Bill Clinton – 12 times
George W. Bush – 6 time
Barack Obama – 19 times
For a more detailed explanation of the executive power that the president appears to have — contrary to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling — read the Congressional Research Report.