Trump’s executive order is so modest that the foundation of it is essentially existing law. That law was passed unanimously by both bodies of Congress in 2002. In fact, it garnered the support of 16 Democrat senators and 57 Democrat House members who are still serving in their respective bodies!
Following 9/11, Congress passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which addressed many of the insecurities in our visa tracking system. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously. The bill was originally sponsored by a group of bipartisan senators, including Ted Kennedy and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. (F, 0%). Among other provisions, it restricted non-immigrant visas from countries designated as state sponsors of terror:
SEC. 306. RESTRICTION ON ISSUANCE OF VISAS TO NONIMMIGRANTS FROM COUNTRIES THAT ARE STATE SPONSORS OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM.
(a) IN GENERAL- No nonimmigrant visa under section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C.1101(a)(15)) shall be issued to any alien from a country that is a state sponsor of international terrorism unless the Secretary of State determines, in consultation with the Attorney General and the heads of other appropriate United States agencies, that such alien does not pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States. In making a determination under this subsection, the Secretary of State shall apply standards developed by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Attorney General and the heads of other appropriate United States agencies, that are applicable to the nationals of such states.
The directive to cut off non-immigrant visas from countries designated as state sponsors of terror is still current law on the books [8 U.S. Code § 1735]. Presidents Bush and Obama later used their discretion to waive the ban, but Trump is actually following the letter of the law — the very law sponsored and passed by Democrats — more closely than Obama did. Trump used his 212(f) authority to add immigrant visas, but that doesn’t take away the fact that every Democrat in the 2002 Senate supported the banning of non-immigrant visas.
At present, only three of the countries — Sudan, Syria, and Iran — are designated as state sponsors by the State Department. At the time Democrats agreed to the ban in 2002, the State Department also included Libya and Iraq in that list. Although Libya and Iraq were on the list due to the presence of Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein as sponsors of terror, there is actually more of a reason to cut off visas now. Both are completely failed states with no reliable data to vet travelers. Both are more saturated with Islamist groups now than they were in 2002. The same goes for Yemen and Somalia. Neither country is a state sponsor of terror because neither has a functioning governments. They are terrorist havens.
Thus, the letter of the law already applies to three of the countries, and the spirit of the law applies to all of them. Plus, the State Department could add any new country to the list, thereby making any future suspension of visas from those specific countries covered under §1735, in addition to the broad general power (INA 212(f)) to shut off any form of immigration. Given that Trump has backed down on green card holders, his executive order on “Muslim countries” is essentially current law, albeit only guaranteed for 90 days!
Sixteen sitting Democrats, including their Minority Leader, voted for the 2002 bill [several of them were in the House at the time]:
In addition, such prominent Democrats as former Vice President Biden, former Secretary of State Clinton, former Secretary of State Kerry, and former Majority Leader Reid vote voted for the bill.
In the House, 57 sitting Democrats voted for the 2002 bill, including leadership members, such as Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (F, 10%), Steny Hoyer, D-M.D. (F, 8%), and James Clyburn, D-S.C. (F, 8%).
Dianne Feinstein has now introduced a bill to overturn Trump’s executive order, but her bill would also overturn, in part, the law on the books she herself sponsored and supported in 2002. In addition, a number of Republicans who are whining about the order, such as John McCain, R-Ariz. (F, 32%), voted for the 2002 bill.