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ACLU Promises To Block Trump's Revised Temporary Travel Ban

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The American Civil Liberties Union has made it very clear they have no plans to back down on legal action to try and block President Trump's latest executive order on immigration. The ACLU has suits pending in a number of courts. We are joined on the line by Lee Gelernt. He is deputy director of the ACLU's national Immigrants' Rights Project. Good morning.

LEE GELERNT: Good morning.

GREENE: So the Trump administration has made some changes now, taking Iraq off the list, offering a lot of exemptions that seem to open the door for more people to not have to abide by these rules. Is - you're still opposed. Tell me why.

GELERNT: We are still opposed. I mean, we expected them to narrow the ban. They had to narrow the ban. But we do believe that it remains unconstitutional. We believe that the core constitutional problem has always been that it discriminates on the basis of religion, that it was prompted by religious discrimination, intent to discriminate on the basis of religion, and we think that remains. So we will continue to challenge it.

GREENE: Let me just work this through with you because intent was one issue that came up in the first legal battle. Many argued that President Trump, you know, essentially used the term ban on Muslims during the campaign. And even though that was not the intent the White House was using now, what he said during the campaign should have been taken into consideration. So with this new order, is that where your legal argument is going to focus?

GELERNT: I think that is certainly one of the principal arguments we'll be making. But we will also - we will be focusing on all of his statements saying this is a Muslim ban and the fact that he now just simply tried to tweak it and get around the legal challenges, but that the intent was always to have a Muslim ban and it remains a Muslim ban. And I would, you know, caution people to not just look at the statements made during the campaign, but also what's evidence is the first executive order that, on its face, discriminated on the basis of religion.

So what we have is the statements leading up to the first executive order and then the first executive order itself. And I think all of that will be taken into account by the courts. Context is very important. The courts have made it clear that they are supposed to look beyond the four corners of a document at what really was going on. And I think that's what the courts have done thus far and will continue to do.

GREENE: What - how do you answer the argument that this is the policy of an elected president, it's a policy he promised to enact through the campaign very publicly?

GELERNT: Right. Well, I mean, I think that - that's the great thing about our country and our Constitution is that even the president, with the backing of a majority of people, cannot override constitutional protections. And our Constitution is very clear that we don't permit religious discrimination. I also - you know, I don't want to get too deep into this.

I don't know that there's a majority of people who are specifically saying that they want a Muslim ban and that that's why the president was elected, but that's not what I want to talk about. You know, even if that were true, it doesn't permit the president to override the Constitution.

GREENE: OK. We're speaking to Lee Gelernt. He is deputy director of the national Immigrants' Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. Thanks so much for talking to us this morning. We really appreciate it.

GELERNT: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROY HARGROVE'S "I'M NOT SO SURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.