[UPDATE Feb. 5, 4:52 p.m.] On Saturday, the Department of Justice filed an emergency appeal to reinstate the ban halted by a federal judge. US Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the motion.
[UPDATE Feb. 3, 8:11 p.m.] A federal judge in Seattle has halted the ban by granting a temporary restraining order on the grounds that the ban targets Muslim immigrants, in violation of their First Amendment rights.
Within one week of taking office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning refugees and immigrants entry to the United States from at least seven Muslim-majority countries. An estimated 500,000 people are anticipated to be caught in the crosshairs of the ban bringing chaos to the already complex American immigration system.
On Jan. 31, the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Minnesota (CAIR-MN) hosted a community forum explaining the implications of the ban. Collected here is what the panel of experts was able to share. Twin Cities Daily Planet will update this article as more information comes in.
“We can’t give you an answer today and be certain about it. Even what you heard last week may not be true now,” said John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
WHAT THE EXECUTIVE ORDER SAYS
- People with valid U.S. visas from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The visas that are affected by this particular section of the ban are for people the U.S would regularly admit – like students, doctors, the elderly, scientists and professors – Keller said.
- If you are from one of the seven countries with a visa that will soon expire, you can only renew via an in-person appointment. Before the executive order, most visas could be renewed by mail or online. Now, if your visa is expiring, you need to have an in-person interview at your country’s nearest consulate. Keller said this could add 100,000 to 200,000 visa interviews to a backlog that already has an average wait time of months.
- New potential immigration interview questions will focus on whether the applicant will be “a positively contributing member of society.” The executive order directs the development of more rigorous – and significantly more subjective – interview questions and procedures. Keller said measures like this have no precedent or basis in immigration law. “We have no idea what the questions will be,” Keller said.
- The executive order bans all refugees from all nations for 120 days. Keller pointed out that the U.S. has been resettling refugees for decades, and the ban goes against long-standing policies. Over the past nine years, nearly 21,000 refugees from 49 countries were resettled in Minnesota alone, according to records from the state Department of Human Services.
- The number of refugees the U.S. receives will see a 55 percent reduction. Previously, President Barack Obama pledged the U.S. would take in 110,000 refugees between Oct. 1, 2016 through Sept. 30, 2017 – the federal government’s fiscal year. The executive order cuts that number down to 50,000. Keller said that 30,000 refugees have already been admitted in the current fiscal year, meaning only 20,000 more refugees will be admitted by the end of September. “Some refugees have already been waiting years, some more than 20 years,” Keller said.
- Refugees facing religious persecution in countries where their religion is a minority will be prioritized. The language in Sec. 5 of the executive order does not explicitly state that Christian refugees from the seven named countries will still be allowed entry to the U.S. However, Islam is practiced by the majority of residents in those seven countries, which would make Christianity a minority. Teresa Nelson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union-Minnesota, said this measure exhibits serious violations of First Amendment rights, giving grounds for organizations like ACLU to challenge the ban in federal court.
- All Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.
- More countries could be added to the ban. Trump’s newly confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can recommend any additional countries to be added to the list. Under the executive order, countries on the list could be subject to removal at any time.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
The ban and all of its directives may be overwhelming, but immigration lawyers nationwide are trying to intervene quickly. On Jan. 28 a federal judge filed a restraining order, within 24 hours of the ban, which prevents folks with valid visas from being detained at airports.
But the restraining orders are limited and there are still reports of immigration and border patrol officers ignoring the injunction.
“We have had reports that people have not been allowed to board planes from Somalia, despite valid greencards,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-MN.
If you or a loved one are traveling and are detained, whether or not you are a citizen of the U.S., you have the right to a lawyer. Insist upon having a lawyer present before answering any questions. Do not sign anything that is presented to you.
There are immigration attorneys waiting in-person at nearly every international airport in the U.S. who are available to help should you or a loved one be detained, Nelson said. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, they have stationed themselves at the international arrivals gate. However, Minnesota may not be your first port of entry on U.S. soil if you are returning from travel abroad.
“There’s no systematic way [yet] of getting a hold of the attorneys at the airports. Tell your loved ones to ask for an attorney,” Keller said.
IF YOU HOLD A VISA OR GREEN CARD FROM ONE OF THE SEVEN COUNTRIES
With the restraining order in place, lawful permanent residents and visa holders should be able to enter the U.S. However, there are steps you can take to better ensure your safety.
- If possible, delay international travel plans. Keller suggested waiting a month or two until there was a better understanding of the ban’s implementation before traveling abroad.
- Carry a signed G28 Form when traveling. A G28 form will inform border patrol that you have an immigration attorney who will represent you, Keller said. If you are detained, you will better ensure your right to representation if you have this form signed by an immigration attorney (not just any attorney).
- If you also hold dual citizenship outside of the U.S. the ban still applies. E.g. someone with Iranian and Canadian citizenship who holds a visa in the U.S. will still be affected by the ban.
- You may still be subject to additional questions/screening upon entry. Do not answer any questions until you are able to speak with a lawyer. Hussein said, “The U.S. government will [likely] not provide you with a translator.” Try to have a plan for translation if necessary.
IF YOU ARE A U.S. CITIZEN
If you have a valid U.S. passport, if you were born in the U.S., or if you are a naturalized citizen, even if you are a dual citizen with the U.S. and hold a passport from a country named in the ban, you should be safe to travel internationally.
“I don’t want to be part of scaring people who shouldn’t be scared,” Keller said. “Just because there’s someone who wants to scare you and is succeeding, doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.”
So here’s what you can do:
- Like and follow the social media accounts of CAIR-MN, ILCM and other immigrant- and Muslim-centered service organizations. Hussein pointed out a real concern that the rosters of folks who follow these social channels could be used as a registry or watch list. By filling the ranks with non-Muslim, non-immigrant followers, the lists become less useful as a registry.
- Donate to the organizations listed below and tell people you donated to build momentum.
- Volunteer. From translators to folks manning the sign-in table at a community meeting, people are needed to help keep everyone serviced and informed.
- Engage politically. An order like this would take an act of Congress or the judgement of the Supreme Court to overturn, Nelson said, so you need to contact the president and federal representatives. Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson just joined 16 other attorneys generals suing Trump over the refugee ban. “Encourage officials who are most able to push back,” Hussein said.
If you need assistance or are willing to provide assistance, contact
Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota (CAIR-MN)
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
- For legal help: 1-800-223-1368
- To volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Minnesota Detention Project
Provides immigrant detainees with free consultation and representation at their initial immigration court appearance.