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Reza Aslan says Donald Trump's proposals amount to a religious test on migration

Aslan: Trump takes another step to forsaking principles upon which Constitution rests

Editor’s Note: Reza Aslan is the author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” and the host of CNN’s new original series “Believer With Reza Aslan,” which premieres at 10 p.m. ET March 5. The views expressed are his own.

CNN  — 

When I was 7, my family fled a violent revolution in Iran that had transformed our country from an oppressive secular dictatorship to an even more oppressive religious one. We arrived in the United States with nothing but a single suitcase each. We had no money, no jobs and no place to live but a cramped, one-room motel we could barely afford.

Reza Aslan

This was during the Iranian hostage crisis – 444 days in which Americans were held captive in the US Embassy in Tehran. People would routinely shout at us on the street, call us terrorists, tell us to “go back home.”

It didn’t matter that we had no home; we had abandoned everything and everyone we knew for an uncertain life in a foreign land precisely because we were fleeing the same repressive regime that our neighbors were so frightened of. What mattered was that we looked different. We seemed different. And so we became the enemy.

And yet we knew that no matter what happened, we had the law on our side. That was, after all, the entire reason we had come to the United States. While many of our friends and family members in Iran fled to France, Germany and the United Kingdom, we chose America because we knew what America meant. We knew what it stood for. We were certain we could weather any attack on our faith or ethnicity because the US Constitution – which we had heard so much about in Iran – would be our shield against the fears and prejudice of our neighbors.

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    Today, the man whose job it is to enforce that Constitution is taking yet another step toward abandoning the principles upon which it was written. Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will effectively bar citizens of a number of Muslim countries – including Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Syria – from entering the United States. The reported plan would be a first step in Trump’s repeated promise of a ban on all Muslim immigrants.

    Trump will argue that he has the law on his side, citing the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(f), as precedent for his executive action. The act allows the president to deny entry into the United States by any alien deemed detrimental to the interests of the country. It was passed in response to the anti-communist hysteria that gripped the country in the 1950s – an absurd reaction to a nonexistent threat that every schoolchild in America is now taught was irrational, unfounded and in violation of all the norms and values upon which this country was founded. (Sound familiar?)

    CNN's 'Believer With Reza Aslan'

  • Join author and religious scholar Reza Aslan as he immerses himself in the world’s most fascinating faith-based groups. Explore CNN’s “Believer With Reza Aslan,” starting at 10 p.m. ET March 5.

    It was for this reason that President Harry Truman originally vetoed the bill, specifically arguing the law would repudiate “our basic religious concepts, our belief in the brotherhood of man, and, in the words of St. Paul, that ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free… for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ ”

    Congress ultimately overrode Truman’s veto. Still, no president has ever attempted to use the act to implement a religious test on migration for the simple reason that a ban based on religion violates the establishment clause of Constitution. But that is exactly what Trump is planning on doing.

    Make no mistake: Trump’s executive order is nothing more than a Muslim ban by another name. Trump claims such a ban is based on nationality, not religion – that it is simply coincidence the ban applies only to Muslim-majority countries. That is yet another lie from a man who has proven himself to be a serial liar.

    Consider that while the ban would make exceptions for “religious minorities” fleeing religious persecution in their home countries, it expressly denies entry to Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution from Muslim governments. In other words, a Druze fearing oppression in Syria would be allowed in the United States under Trump’s proposed ban, but a Sunni facing slaughter would not. A Christian fleeing discrimination in Yemen would be given entry, but a Shia facing death and starvation would not. A Baha’i seeking refuge from Iran would be welcomed in America, but a moderate Muslim family such as mine fleeing Islamic fundamentalism would not.

    Trump has also argued that the restrictions would focus on countries whose migrants could pose a threat to Americans. But this, too, is a lie. If this act were meant to safeguard the homeland from citizens from terror-prone countries, then it would include (which it reportedly doesn’t) a ban on citizens from Saudi Arabia – a country whose citizens have killed more American civilians than every other banned country on Trump’s list combined. Indeed, of the 19 terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt and one from Lebanon. Not a single one of these countries are on Trump’s banned list, though, with the possible exception of Lebanon, Trump has business ties in all of them.

    All of this proves that this executive order is nothing more than a cynical cover for what Trump has repeatedly promised would be a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States (Muslims he doesn’t make a profit from, that is), and the full-frontal assault on the civil rights of Muslim citizens in the United States. That is not fear-mongering; it is not an exaggeration. It is explicitly what Trump vowed to do as president when he discussed creating a database for all Muslims in the United States; when he threatened to send American citizens to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; when he assembled the most rabidly anti-Muslim Cabinet in recent memory, including a national security adviser who believes “Islam is not a real religion, but a political ideology masked behind a religion”; when he reportedly gets his views and policies about Muslims from officially designated hate groups.

    It took 16 years of living in this country before I finally qualified for citizenship at the age of 23. As an adult taking a solemn oath, I was perfectly conscious of the decision I was making. I fully understood the promise I made to America to renounce any loyalty I may have to the country of my birth, and to defend my adopted country from all enemies foreign and domestic.

    I also fully understood the promise my country was making to me: that I, like so many millions who have made America their home, would have the same opportunity as everyone else to seek, not just a better life, but a life worth living; that my parents dream of giving me the opportunity to flourish would not be trampled upon by bigotry and fear, but would be protected by the law.

    My family made the most of that promise. It wasn’t easy, but my father got an advanced degree and started his own business. My mother took odd jobs and scrimped and saved. I was sent to a private university where I thrived. I now have an American family of my own.

    I am not just an example of the American success story. I am America. And if the President of the United States can threaten my rights as a citizen, then he can do the same for any one of us.