Since President Trump began issuing executive orders (“EOs”) on immigration last week, there has been outrage, confusion, and chaos within the immigration community. The EOs were clearly not very well thought out, and seem to have been written by someone lacking a comprehensive understanding of America’s immigration law. As a result, several courts have blocked portions of the EOs, and the Administration has walked back one of the more problematic elements of the new rules. There will be time later for an analysis of how all this affects our country’s security and moral standing, but since we are still in the middle of it, and since the situation is rapidly changing, I wanted to provide an update to my post from last week, to help non-citizens understand their situation.
As I wrote last time, the EOs’ most damaging effects are on people trying to come to the United States. For people who are already here, the effect is less dramatic (and not all-together clear). Also, I believe nothing I wrote last week is obsolete, so if you have not read the previous posting, please do, as today’s posting is meant to supplement what I wrote last time.
Lawful Permanent Residents from Countries of Particular Concern: In some ways, the worst part of the EOs is how they affected lawful permanent residents (“LPRs” or people with green cards) who are from “countries of particular concern,” meaning Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya (perhaps more countries will be added to this list later).
DHS originally interpreted the EOs to mean that LPRs from these countries would be turned back at the border. Apparently, at least some LPRs were rejected at the airport and sent back to their point of origin (Customs and Border Protection or CBP claims that only two LPRs were turned back). However, after (partially) successful litigation by the ACLU and others, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a statement that “the entry of lawful permanent residents [is] in the national interest. Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.” This means that if you are an LPR from one of the listed countries, you should probably (but not certainly) be able to re-enter the United States, but you should expect delays upon arrival, as your case will be individually reviewed to determine whether you present a threat to the United States. Whether you will, in fact, be able to enter the U.S. is not guaranteed, and how long the delay will be at the airport is currently unknown (DHS claims that entry into the U.S. should be “swift”).
Given all this, it is clearly a bad idea for anyone with lawful status in the U.S. who is from one of the listed countries to travel outside the U.S. at this time. If you are from one of the listed countries and are currently outside the U.S., you should be able to return if you are an LPR (if you have some other status in the U.S., especially a non-immigrant status, you likely will not be able to return at this time). Because there is so much uncertainty for people from these countries, it is best to remain in the United States or, if you are outside the country and are able to return, to return as soon as possible.
People from Countries of Particular Concern Waiting for an Immigration Benefit: For people in the U.S. who are from “countries of particular concern” and who are waiting for an immigration benefit, such as asylum, a work permit or a green card, the situation is also unclear.
Section 3 of the EO on terrorism is titled, “Suspension of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern” and states that the U.S. government should conduct a review to determine whether additional information is needed to adjudicate visas, admissions, and “other benefits under the INA (adjudications)” for people from countries of particular concern. The reference to “other benefits under the INA” or Immigration and Nationality Act – the immigration law of the United States –would presumably include benefits such as green cards, asylum, and work permits, though the EO does not specifically define what it means. Also, while the EO suspends immigrant and non-immigrant admissions for 90 days for people from countries of particular concern, it makes no other mention of suspending immigration benefits to such people who are already in the U.S. As a result, it is unclear whether, or for how long, USCIS (the agency that administers immigration benefits) will suspend such benefits for people from the listed countries.
Unfortunately, some leaked–but thus far unconfirmed–emails from USCIS indicate that the agency has decided to suspend all final decisions in cases for people from the listed countries. According to one news source:
“Effectively [sic] immediately and until additional guidance is received, you may not take final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya,” wrote Daniel M. Renaud, associate director of field operations for DHS’s office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Field offices may interview applicants for adjustment of status and other benefits according to current processing guidance and may process petitions and applications for individuals from these countries up to the point where a decision would be made.”
In other words, while interviews can take place for such people, no decisions–to include approval, denial, withdrawal, or revocation–will be made “until further notice.” I can report that USCIS is conducting interviews for people from countries on the list–my Syrian asylum client was interviewed yesterday–but I have not heard anything official yet about whether decisions will be issued. If this is accurate, it means decision will be suspended, at least for a while, on asylum cases. Whether it will affect applications for work permits, which are issued while waiting for a final decision on an asylum case, is less clear. Hopefully, it will not, and hopefully, this suspension will be temporary.
I-730 Petitions: If a person is granted asylum, she can file an I-730 (follow to join) petition for her spouse and minor, unmarried children. For family members from countries on the list, the EO applies, and thus the State Department “has stopped scheduling appointments and halted processing for follow-to join asylee beneficaries who are nationals or dual nationals of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Further information on appointments for follow-to-join refugees will be available in the future.” In other words, family members of asylees from the listed countries cannot currently come here based on I-730 petitions, but how long this prohibition will last is unknown. In contrast to the State Department website, CBP indicates that I-730 petitions will be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. How this will ultimately play out, we do not know, but there is still hope that family members overseas will be able to join the principal asylee in the United States. Also, the visa ban is set to expire after 90 days, and so we can hope that once procedures are reviewed, travelers from “countries of particular concern” will be able to come to the United States to join their family members.
People from Other Muslim Countries: At this point the EOs are limited to the seven listed countries. People from other Muslim countries are not affected. However, the EOs require government agencies to determine whether additional countries should be added to the “banned” list. For this reason, if you are a non-citizen, and particularly if you are from a predominately Muslim country, it is important to keep an eye on the news, just in case more countries are added to the list. A good source for up-to-date information about the EOs, and the lawsuits opposing them, is the American Immigration Council’s website, here.
So that is the update for now. It is important to understand that the “ban” described in the EO is temporary, and that the people mainly affected are nationals from “countries of particular concern.” Of course, we will have to see how this plays out going forward, but it is important to remain calm and patient, and to keep hoping–and working–for something better.
[Update for February 2, 2017: I have heard an unconfirmed rumor out of the State Department that additional countries will be added to the list of banned countries. This is not confirmed, but here is the message I received: “There is a draft order being circulated at the State Department. The order has language extending the list of banned countries to Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, Mali, Colombia, and Venezuela.” I suggest people from those countries pay careful attention to the news, in case the countries are added to the list, and I suggest that people from these countries not travel outside the U.S. until we have some clarification.]