WASHINGTON — Pamela Raghebi of Seattle blames former President Donald Trump’s travel ban for keeping her separated from her husband, Afshin, a native of Iran, for three frustrating years.
“My world basically turned upside down,” Raghebi said Wednesday in a phone interview, recalling how the blockade Trump imposed on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries had stranded her spouse overseas. “They scapegoated a whole culture throughout the world. That can’t be allowed to happen again.”
House Democrats moved Wednesday to try to prevent that from happening. Voting 218-208, mostly along party lines, the House passed legislation known as the No Ban Act that would restrict the president’s wide-ranging power to control immigration by requiring that travel bans be temporary and subject to congressional oversight. It also would explicitly bar any such edict based on religion.
The House also approved, 217-207, entirely along party lines, a related measure that would require that certain immigrants be allowed access to a lawyer when they are detained at ports of entry, such as airports.
Republicans opposed both bills; just one of them, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, crossed party lines to support the No Ban measure. They argued that controls on immigration should be tightened, not relaxed, given the crush of migration through the southwestern border.
“Are Democrats working to repair the crisis?” Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, asked on the House floor Wednesday. “Are they working to stop the mass flow of illegal migration? No.”
The bills face an uncertain future in an evenly split Senate, where a backlog of House-passed bills on immigration and other topics face steep obstacles. But advocates say they send a clear message that America cannot go back to the policies of Trump, who called during his presidential campaign for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and then strove to put those words into action once he took office.
“We cannot allow any president to abuse the power of his or her office,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the floor.
The measures were inspired by the harsh and abrupt steps Trump took at the start of his presidency to clamp down on the entry of foreigners into the country, which led to chaos at U.S. airports and a rush of legal challenges. In January 2017, he denied entry to citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. Amid court challenges, Trump later amended the ban, expanding it to include some countries that are not predominantly Muslim, such as North Korea.
President Joe Biden, who reversed Trump’s travel bans after taking office, is backing the legislation.
“Those bans were a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths,” said a formal statement of support issued by the White House this week.
But the statement said the administration reserved the right to restrict travel from specific countries if necessary.
“The administration stands ready to work with the Congress to adopt a solution that protects against unfair religious discrimination while also ensuring the executive branch has the flexibility necessary to respond to serious threats to security and public health, and emergent international crises,” the statement said.
Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., said she could never forget the hardship inflicted on travelers by Trump’s bans, which she called “illegal and ill conceived,” and discriminatory against Muslims.
“Families were separated,” she said. “Many were denied the right to counsel.”
Still, the legislation comes at a difficult political moment for Biden and Democrats on immigration.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., argued Tuesday that the No Ban Act would weaken national security, and that the requirement that travelers have access to counsel “complicates the job of Border Patrol agents” and would cost millions of dollars.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cost $825 million to implement over five years.
“This bill does nothing to address the Biden border crisis,” he said, using the label Republicans have adopted. Similar problems also existed under Trump.
The votes Wednesday are the latest steps the Democratic-led House has taken in recent weeks to try to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Last month, the House voted to create a path to citizenship for an estimated 4 million immigrants living in the country without legal permission to do so.
In one bill, lawmakers moved to set up a permanent legal pathway for more than 2.5 million immigrants living in the country illegally, including those brought to the United States as children known as Dreamers, and others granted Temporary Protected Status for humanitarian reasons. Lawmakers also approved a measure that would eventually grant legal status to close to 1 million farmworkers and their families while updating a key agricultural visa program.
While some Republicans have pledged support for Dreamers in the past, their party is increasingly uniting behind a hard-line strategy to deny Biden the votes he needs to make any new immigration law and use the problems at the border as a political weapon.
The Biden administration's positions on immigration have been criticized by both the right and the left.
Biden angered Democrats across the country Friday when White House officials said he would limit the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year to the historically low level set by the Trump administration, reversing an earlier promise to welcome more than 60,000 people fleeing war and persecution.
The move to cap the number at 15,000 prompted such an immediate backlash from Democrats and human rights activists that the White House later retreated and promised to announce an increased number by May 15.
Even though Biden reversed Trump’s travel ban, he has not approved an expedited waiver process to reunite separated spouses such as the Raghebis, said Avideh Moussavian, legislative director at the National Immigration Law Center.
“The actual work of undoing the damage and the harm was not going to happen on Day 1,” Moussavian said. “We have been urging the administration to ensure there’s an efficient, expedited path for those applicants to have their cases reconsidered. People have been left on their own on navigating a system that at this point they are justified in having little faith in.”
Pamela Raghebi, who sued the Trump administration over Afshin Raghebi's situation, said she was hopeful that her husband of 10 years would get home soon. She has been talking to him every day on the phone, and she wants him to meet a new grandchild in the family.
“There’s so much about my husband that I miss,” she said. “I get very anxious about the future. If he can come home, I would have the most lovely birthday.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.