A Hawaiian Imam Challenges The Travel Ban

by Jessicah Lahitou
Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

President Trump is again facing opposition to his revised travel ban, and not just in the form of angry protests. On Wednesday, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a ruling that once more halts the president's executive order to bar citizens of several majority-Muslim countries from coming to the United States. It's the second time Trump's plan has been shut down by the judicial branch, after his initial attempt was temporarily halted last month by James Robart, a federal judge in Washington state. Now, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii has ruled that Trump's travel ban violates the First Amendment rights of American citizens, in particular the rights of Ismail Elshikh, a Muslim plaintiff in Hawaii's case against the ban.

Elshikh has been the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii since 2003, and is a member of the North American Imam's Federation (NAIF). In February, Hawaii's attorney general, Doug Chin, brought Elshikh on as a fellow plaintiff in the state's case against Trump's travel ban. Elshikh's mother-in-law lives in Syria, and Trump's travel ban would prevent her from visiting their family in Hawaii. The case argues that this represents an unconstitutional burden for Muslim Americans, essentially keeping families of citizens out of the country based on religious grounds.

Chin's lawsuit also asserts that Trump's travel ban is anathema to the reputation of Hawaii. With an economy that is dependent on tourism, the Aloha State is deeply invested in keeping its proverbial doors open to all visitors. Barring citizens of majority-Muslim nations from coming in, especially if they are family members of Hawaiian residents, is uniquely threatening to a demographically diverse state whose economy relies on a steady flow of tourists.

Hawaii is not the only state fighting against Trump's revised travel ban. There are currently more than half a dozen states that have joined in legal challenges to the president's executive order.

In his ruling, Watson stated that Trump's travel ban demonstrates religious discrimination. Noting that up to 99 percent of the population is Muslim in some of the countries banned, Watson wrote, "It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam." The human face of that targeting is Elshikh, whose American family would be kept from reuniting with his mother-in-law purportedly on account of religious discrimination. Whether or not that argument holds up in court remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Trump's travel ban has yet again been put on hold.