Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP

Trump Era Begins With Tumultuous First Week, Entry Ban


President Donald Trump’s tumultuous first week included a series of executive orders on immigration, refugees, and other issues. Among them was a temporary and immediate entry ban on people traveling to the United States from certain countries that resulted in unexpected detentions at U.S. airports; people blocked from boarding planes bound for the United States; confusion and contradictions among travelers, border agents, airline personnel, White House staff, and reporters; thousands protesting at U.S. airports; legal filings; and related court decisions.

Highlights follow of the immigration-related portions of the orders, and reaction:

Entry ban, refugee ban.

President Trump signed an executive order on January 27, 2017, directing the Department of State to suspend refugee admissions for 120 days and impose an entry ban on individuals from certain countries. The order specifically suspends the entry of Syrian refugees as “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” and orders the suspension to continue “until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made” to the refugee program to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees “is consistent with the national interest.” The order also cuts from 110,000 to 50,000 the number of refugees the United States will accept in this budget year, with exceptions for those claiming religious persecution who are of minority faiths in their countries. In the previous budget year, the United States accepted 84,995 refugees, which included 12,587 Syrians. The order allows some leeway for admissions “on a case-by-case basis.” 

The order also suspends for 90 days entry to the United States of individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. The order cites as a rationale “foreign-born individuals” who “have been convicted of or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001,” as a basis for the entry ban.

As a result of the order, dozens of people were initially detained at U.S. airports, including JFK International and others. Some received waivers to enter the United States, while others continued to be held, in what remained a fluid situation as of press time. Protests occurred at major airports around the country. There were reports of green card holders not being allowed back into the United States, and people with visas being stopped or turned back at international airports and not allowed to board their flights to the United States. On January 29, 2017, new Department of Homeland Secretary John Kelly issued a statement [https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/01/29/statement-secretary-john-kelly-entry-lawful-permanent-residents-united-states] that green card holders from the seven affected countries would be granted waivers to return to the United States.

Emergency stay

‘One of those detained at JFK Airport was Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and “saved countless U.S. service members’ lives,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU and other organizations challenged the executive order on constitutional grounds. Although Mr. Darweesh and another plaintiff were released, Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York issued a decision late on January 28, 2017, ordering that individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen who are in the United States not be removed who have approved refugee applications, valid immigrant and nonimmigrant visas, and other legal authorizations to enter the United States. She said this was because the petitioners had a strong likelihood of success in establishing that their removal and “others similarly situated” would violate their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and that there was imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there would be “substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations subject to the January 27, 2017 Executive Order.”

The White House subsequently issued a statement in reaction: “Saturday’s ruling does not undercut the President’s executive order. All stopped visas will remain stopped. All halted admissions will remain halted. All restricted travel will remain prohibited. The executive order is a vital action toward strengthening America’s borders…. The order remains in place.” President Trump told reporters that the ban was going “very nicely.”

Removal priorities, sanctuary penalties.

President Trump signed a separate executive order on January 25, 2017, entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” The order directs agencies to employ “all lawful means to ensure the faithful execution of the immigration laws of the United States against all removable aliens.” The order prioritizes for removal those who have been convicted of, or charged with, any criminal offense; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a government agency; have “abused” any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied; or, in the judgment of an immigration officer, “otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

Reaction.

Reaction to the executive orders worldwide, especially to the entry ban, was overwhelmingly negative. Twenty Nobel laureates and thousands of academics signed a letter of protest denouncing the executive order imposing the entry ban. Among other things, the letter says that the executive order “significantly damages American leadership in higher education and research.” The letter notes that research institutes host a significant number of researchers from the nations subjected to the restrictions. From Iran alone, for example, more than 3,000 students have received PhDs from U.S. universities in the past three years, the letter states. The executive order “limits collaborations with researchers from these nations by restricting entry of these researchers to the U.S. and can potentially lead to departure of many talented individuals who are current and future researchers and entrepreneurs in the U.S.,” the letter says, adding that the signers “strongly believe” that the immediate and long-term consequences of the order “do not serve our national interests.”

Technology companies also reacted, including Google, Apple, and others. Apple CEO Tim Cook sent a memo to employees that was circulated widely. In the memo, Mr. Cook said the entry ban “is not a policy we support,” and noted that Apple “reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company.” The memo also said that “Apple would not exist without immigration, let alone thrive and innovate the way we do.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said on Facebook, “Trump’s actions are hurting Netflix employees around the world.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees to cancel travel outside of the United States and to get in touch with Google’s human resources department if they are not in the United States. A Google spokesperson said, ” We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S.”

Reactions from governments worldwide continued to pour in. On January 28, 2017, Iran announced that all U.S. citizens, other than those with valid visas, would be barred from entering Iran. British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had just visited the United States and came under heavy criticism for not immediately denouncing the ban, said she did not agree with it. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s recently appointed Immigration Minister, came to Canada as a Somali refugee and is a dual national.

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