President Trump has issued an executive order which bans entry for persons from seven countries with a majority Muslim population-Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen-and which completely halts America’s refugee program for 120 days. Along with the executive order, Trump has put into place “extreme vetting” procedures which appear to largely consist of detaining and harassing visa holders.
Like many people throughout the world, we at C.T. Lee & Associates are greatly disturbed by both the language of the order and how the government has implemented it. We therefore want to explain to all of our clients and readers how this order can affect them and how to help ensure that visa holders can still come to the United States.
There has been a lot of confusion stemming from this order, in large part caused by the order being vague and hastily written. There have not also been any clear guidelines as to how the Customers and Border Protection (“CPB”) officers or airline employees should enforce the order, which has caused chaos at many airports. Due to the lack of national guidelines and the order’s astonishingly overbroad language, the conditions on the ground are changing rapidly. Right now, despite having a valid visa or even a green card, officers have been detaining and at times forcibly removing immigrant and non-immigrant visitors to the United States.
We therefore recommend that anyone without American citizenship to contact an American immigration attorney before they arrive in the United States, to make sure they will still be allowed to be admitted. If you know anyone that has been detained or has been refused entry to the United States, C.T. Lee & Associates is here to help, so please contact us immediately.
A Ban on Muslim Immigrants and Persons from Muslim Majority Countries
The most heavily reported aspect of the order has been the ban on any visa holders from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. According to the language of the executive order, visa holders from these countries are banned from entering the United States for the next 90 days, to allow for the United States government to reassess their vetting and security procedures to allow these visa holders in.
A number of lawsuits have been filed throughout the country, and federal courts have issued initial orders which have restricted the scope of Trump’s ban. Unfortunately, it appears that many CPB officers are refusing to comply with the federal courts, and are still enforcing Trump’s ban. For example, many green card holders have not even been permitted to speak to an attorney, even after federal courts have issued orders specifically allowing green card holders to see an attorney.
Although we expect that some, if not all, of Trump’s ban will be struck down by the courts, it is unclear at this time whether the CPB officers will follow the instructions of the federal courts or President Trump. We therefore caution all visa holders to not simply trust that any directives from the federal court will protect them.
One unresolved issue is the scope of the ban and whether the ban only applies to citizens of the banned list of countries, or if anyone who were born or simply visited the countries would also be subject to the ban. It presently appears that most border officials are currently applying the ban to any person that was born or is otherwise a national of the targeted countries, regardless of the person’s actual citizenship status with that country, and some have even detained people for visiting any of the banned countries.
The United States has advised that persons born from the banned countries that are currently citizens of the United Kingdom, any European Union nation, Canada, or Israel will not be subject to the ban. This exception was put into place since the order would ban many people who clearly would not be subject to any security risk, such as a Conservative British member of parliament who was born in Iraq.
Like nearly every aspect of the order, Trump’s administration has issued conflicting explanations as to how this exception will apply. While some reports have indicated that duel citizens of the UK, EU, Canada, or Israel are not subject to the ban, other officials have stated that this exception only applies if the person does not possess a passport from their banned country of birth and they are not currently citizens of any of the banned countries. As these exceptions have not been officially published by the United States, we recommend that persons with duel citizenship contact their local American embassy to try to get clarification as to how the rule would apply to them, and to let their American attorney know what the local embassy has advised before they travel.
Trump’s Extreme Vetting and How to Prevent the Worst From Happening
President Trump has also called for “extreme vetting” of all persons entering the United States. While there have not been any specific guidelines as to what the “extreme vetting” consists of, there have been numerous reports of visa holders and even green card holders being asked their views of President Trump, the United States, ISIS, and sharia law. CPB officers have also examined the phones and computers, and have reviewed the social media accounts (such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instragram) to look for any “suspect” information. There have even been reports of a visa holder being detained at the border since he had a Muslim prayer app on his phone.
It therefore appears that in practice much of the extreme vetting has been to harass Muslims and people of color who may “appear” Muslim. We strongly oppose these newly established vetting procedures, and we make the following suggestions only to help secure our clients entry into the United States, and we do not condone in any way the discriminatory measures President Trump has put in place.
Before your arrival to the United States we strongly suggest that all visa holders either immediately delete their social media accounts or at the very least delete any posts which comment on or otherwise mention President Trump, the Republican party, immigration, the American government, the “war on terror”, ISIS, or anything even remotely related to politics or current events. Any social media posts or images that even mention Islam, regardless of their context, or anything else that could be misconstrued should also be deleted. Phones, computers, cameras, and other devices should be checked to make sure there are not any apps, documents, images, or other files relating to any of these topics. One should also consider simply not traveling with your laptop or other electronic devices aside from a basic cell phone.
On the date of your arrival, try to have a family member or friend available to meet you at the airport and also make sure that you tell your attorney the details of your flight. During your flight, be sure to dress professionally and try to look as “western” as possible. Immediately upon landing, text your family member to let them know you have arrived. If it looks like you are going to be held for questioning or otherwise detained, text your family member immediately to let them know. Your phone could be confiscated without warning, and unlike what you may have seen in the movies, you will not be allowed a phone call. If your family member has not heard from you after your flight arrives, have them contact a lawyer to assist you.
If you are detained by a CPB officer, be polite and respectful at all times. You may be detained for hours without food or water. CPB officers may try to anger you or cause you to overreact. No matter what happens, this is not the time to make a political statement or to let your frustration show. Do not physically resist at any time, even if you are handcuffed. If you are asked your views on President Trump, America, or any American policy, simply profess your admiration for America and its leadership, and do not make any statements disparaging Trump, his policies, or anything related to America.
If you are a green card holder, respectfully and repeatedly ask to speak to your attorney, as green card holders have the right to do so. If you are not fluent in English, ask that a translator be made available. Do not sign any documents regarding your visa or green card without first having an attorney review it.
Blocking Refugees From Any Nation
One less reported aspect of the executive order is that it completely halts America’s refugee program for 120 days. The refugee ban is a ban on all refugees, regardless of their current nationality, citizenship, religion, race, gender, or creed. Although the order allows for the government to admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the 120 day ban, it does not explain how one can apply for such a waiver to the ban and it is likely that few refugees will qualify for this exception.
The executive order states that after 120 days, the government will determine which countries they can “safely” admit refugees from, and will only allow for the admission of refugees from such a list of approved countries. Once the refugee program is restarted, the government will prioritize refugees of religious persecution when they are a member of a religious minority in the country. This section of the Order seems to follow the previous statements of the President, where he has called for the United States to prioritize Christian asylum seekers at the expense of Muslims and other faiths. The Order also dramatically reduces the number of refugees that the United States will take in the year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000.
It is currently unclear what this would mean for asylum seekers of religious faiths and practices other than Christianity, such, such as Jews, Yazidis, Buddhists, Hindus, or Baha’is. It is also unclear how this will apply to Muslims facing religious persecution due to their specific denomination of Islam, such as Shia Muslims in a majority Sunni nation.
Despite the uncertainty, we still encourage all persons that qualify as refugees to immediately apply for refugee status for themselves and/or their families. As the number of refugees will be capped dramatically, it is best to get in front of the line as an admitted refugee once the temporary ban on the refugee ban is lifted.
On the Horizon-A Broader and Lengthier Ban?
Unfortunately, once the 90 day ban is over, a new and even broader ban could be put in its place. The order directs the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to review information it receives from other countries regarding their citizens and issue a report detailing which countries do not have proper security measures in place or did not provide adequate information. After that report is issued, the Secretary of State will require all foreign governments listed in the report to provide unspecified additional information within sixty days. At the end of the sixty day period, the President can then decide to ban all visa holders from those countries for a temporary or permanent ban.
What does this mean? First, the seven countries included in the ban will effectively have 90 days to provide additional information to the United States about their citizens in order to allow the United States to apply an unspecified “extreme vetting” procedure. This will likely result in a permanent ban for many of these countries, as these countries either are in the midst of a civil war, have an unstable government, or, with Iran, will simply not be inclined to assist the Trump administration in any way. Therefore, any visa holder from those countries that are currently within the United States should not make any plans to travel outside the United States at any point in time, since they may not be permitted to return.
It is also highly likely that the ban will be extended to other countries. The President’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has already suggested that new countries will be added, since although the travel ban claims to be in place to prevent terrorism, no terrorist that has attacked the United States in this century has actually come from any of the banned countries. We therefore anticipate that additional muslim majority nations could be added to the list. Due to the vague guidelines for adding banned countries to the list, Trump could also potentially include other non-Muslim majority nations in order to simply exact leverage in trade talks-such as Mexico or China. There should be more clarity on this issue in the next thirty days, when the list of potential countries should be first published.
Don’t Panic-Things Could Get Better Soon
Again, we note that these are the very early stages of the executive order, and the situation on the ground could dramatically change in the next weeks or months. Hopefully, the Trump’s administration will at least issue clear guidelines for their policies, as one major issue with the order is that nobody in the government appears to know what is going on or how they should comply with the order. We are also optimistic that most if not all of the ban will be permanently struck down by the federal courts, and that the CPB will eventually start following the court’s instructions.
Additionally, the political situation in the United States could significantly change in the next few years, as Congress will have mid-term elections in 2018, which could result in a pro-immigration majority that can block much of Trump’s actions, and Trump himself will be up for re-election in 2020. Despite what Trump may say, America is a nation of immigrants, and as the recent protests have shown, the American people do not support this discriminatory ban.
We therefore recommend that all visa holders practice don’t panic, and instead exercise caution when traveling to or from the United States and to immediately consult with an immigration attorney to understand their rights under the law.