While progressive outlets are exploding with outrage and assertions of Republican xenophobia are rampant after Donald Trump's proposal that Muslim immigrants should temporarily not be allowed into the country, Daniel Greenfield of FrontpageMag has reminded people of an uncomfortable historical fact.
Jimmy Carter froze immigration from the Muslim-majority nation of Iran after the 1979 hostage crisis.
Immediately after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun in 1979, Carter issued an executive order that all Iranian students in the U.S. had to report to immigration officials within thirty days. Out of a population of over 50,000, there were 15,000 Iranians who were ejected from the country.
An Appeals Court decision upheld the President's authority for the action, in part saying this:
“The present controversy involving Iranian students in the United States lies in the field of our country's foreign affairs and implicates matters over which the president has direct constitutional authority.”
More directly related to the current situation referred to by Trump's idea, a concurring opinion in the decision made this point:
“Distinctions on the basis of nationality may be drawn in the immigration field by the Congress or the executive. So long as such distinctions are not wholly irrational, they must be sustained.”
It is important to note that there is no precedent for a religious litmus test, just a national one.
Carter's second action, five months after the hostages were taken, was to announce formal sanctions against Iran. In addition to closing government offices, prohibiting exports from the U.S. into Iran, and seizing domestic Iranian assets, any entry by Iranian citizens into the U.S. was stopped.
Here's the pertinent line from Carter's announcement:
“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.”
Of course, the difference between then and now is that Jimmy Carter barred Iranians from entering the country and Trump would bar all Muslims. Any such invalidation of entry into the United States thus requires a debate about national security priorities and the legalities of visa restrictions.
The United States has thus banned entry into the country on national security grounds - and under Democratic presidents, no less. In addition to Carter's freeze of entry into the U.S. for Iranians, there are the acts taken against the Japanese and Germans by FDR.
What that entails for refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority nations that are hostile to the United States is a matter for debate - but banning entry based on religion would certainly be unprecedented.