Just days after President Trump signed two executive orders to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, increase border patrol and immigration enforcement forces, reinstate the Secure Communities program and deny federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” the president issued a third immigration executive order that will temporarily bar people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S., stop Syrian refugee admissions, suspend the general refugee admission program for about four months and lay out new vetting requirements. Kerry Bretz, Partner, Bretz & Coven, LLP, says these recent executive orders will only punish those who are already in the country with a valid visa and keep those apart from their family members who are already living in the U.S.
On January 27, 2017, during an appearance at the U.S. Department of Defense, President Trump signed an executive order that suspends the entry of individuals from seven Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Those who have nationality or dual nationality to one of the seven Middle Eastern countries will be barred from entering the U.S. for 90 days and will not be granted visas. While this plan does not specifically mention the religion of Islam, advocacy groups believe this measure solely targets Muslims.
Despite the outcry from immigration rights groups, the Trump administration insists that citizens of these countries who already have a green card will be permitted entry into the U.S. and only less than one percent of travelers have been affected by the order.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement on January 29, 2017, clarifying that the entry of green card holders from these nations are “in the national interest.” Green card holders will be allowed to board planes to the U.S. and “will be assessed for exceptions” upon their arrival, as “appropriate.”
The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and lays out new vetting requirements. It calls specifically for a “uniform screening standard” that includes in-person interviews, updated application forms, a way to “evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society,” among other measures.
The order calls for an expedited completion of the biometric entry-exit tracking system and suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program. The suspension of that program waives the interview process for some immigrants who are seeking a renewed visa.
“This will only create confusion and prove to be ineffective,” Mr. Bretz says. “This will mostly hurt visa holders from these Middle Eastern nations who travel frequently to and from the U.S., as they will be constantly subjected to redundant reviews, even if they have already been cleared in the initial screening process. If they are sent back, they will be separated from their families here in the U.S. for an indefinite amount of time.”
The executive order has resulted in swift action from local jurists. This past weekend, a U.S. District Court judge granted a stay to those with approved refugee applications and others from Muslim-majority countries who were already permitted to enter the U.S. A Virginia judge prevented the federal government from throwing out green card holders at Dulles International Airport and allowed those detainees access to legal counsel. In Washington state, a judge ruled two immigrants who were pulled off a flight after the executive order was issued could not be removed. Meanwhile, a judge in Massachusetts refused to let the government detain and remove those who were refugees or visa holders.
“I am glad that these judges acted quickly and effectively in blocking the president’s orders from going further,” Mr. Bretz says. “These orders that purport to stop terrorists from entering our country have only created chaos at our airports and detained innocent foreign nationals for no reason at all. We anticipate a legal challenge to this executive order, which I hope will be overturned.”
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