Advocates hold a press conference and rally to denounce new Trump order that temporarily bans refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority countries from coming to the U.S.
Civil rights and refugee aid groups say they worry about confusion at airports, arbitrary denials for visas and refugees being blocked from the country now that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed parts of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to be enforced.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear arguments over Trump’s temporary ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and all refugees, which civil rights groups had alleged was unconstitutional. In its opinion, the court allowed the ban to proceed in part, saying travelers who have a “bona fide” relationship with people, businesses or organizations in the U.S. can still enter.
Advocates and attorneys said they hoped only a small number of travelers would be affected, but that it remained to be seen how the ban would be rolled out and what the U.S. would consider “bona fide,” a legal term meaning “in good faith.”
“We don’t know how it will be implemented across the board. It could be different from one airport to the next,” said Laurie Woog, who is of counsel in immigration law with the New Jersey firm Mandelbaum Salsburg.
Trump called the decision “a clear victory for our national security.”
“As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm. I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive,” Trump said in a statement.
The court’s decision to hear the case in the fall follows a months-long legal battle after Trump signed an executive order for a travel ban days after taking office. The initial order, which also targeted green card holders and legal residents, led to massive protests and chaos at airports as people were detained, stranded abroad and turned away at airports.
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Several lower courts struck down the ban, saying it was unconstitutional because it targeted Muslims based on their religion.
‘Bona fide’ ties
The Supreme Court ruling means federal officials will have to determine whether travelers from the six targeted countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — have sufficient ties to be able to enter the U.S.
The court listed several examples of such a relationship, including having a close family member or a job offer in the United States, an offer of admission at a university, or an invitation to lecture to an American audience.
But for many more travelers — including people seeking medical treatment, students who want to tour college, or individuals training at American companies — the rules are still unclear.
“If someone comes with a tourist visa, but does not have a relative and is coming to seek medical treatment, are they going to be let in? I think there will be some interpretation of what this phrase [bona fide] means,” Woog said.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a partial dissent, wrote that he feared the partial ban will “invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits,” as parties and courts struggle to sort out individual cases.
Nadia Kahf, an attorney and chairwoman of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said she was concerned about the ban’s implementation. Many Muslims, even those not targeted in the ban, faced extra scrutiny at airports after the initial ban, she said.
“From now until the Supreme Court’s full decision comes out, there will be these people caught in these loopholes, who may be returning to their job or their family and be denied entry. That’s my concern — the confusion and arbitrariness that it may cause at borders,” she said.
It remains to be seen what if any guidance will be given to border officers and consulate employees about the ban. Trump said last week that the ban would take effect 72 hours after being cleared by courts.
Advocates say refugees with family connections in the U.S. should still be able to enter under the amended ban. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of refugees who come to the U.S. have a family connection here, said Courtney Madsen, a director at Church World Service.
“[The opinion] does say people can come in if they have family relationships in the U.S. and refugees are a part of the exception,” Madsen said. “That makes me optimistic that we will continue to receive arrivals.”
Trump’s ban calls for blocking all refugees for 120 days until vetting can be improved, even though advocates and government officials have maintained that the process is long and exhaustive. Refugees, they say, go through a minimum of 18 months of interviews, medical exams and background checks by multiple agencies.
For those who are blocked from entering, that could mean dashed hopes and substantial delays in their plans to settle in the U.S.
To travel to the United States, refugees must have a security clearance and medical clearance, but those clearances expire in four to six weeks. If they don’t travel within that time, the clearances need to be redone, Madsen said.
She said refugee admissions had already slowed significantly because many refugees lost their clearances when the initial refugee ban took effect. Madsen said there was a reported backlog in cases among federal agencies that do clearances.
In fact, the Washington Post reported in May that the Department of Homeland Security had not resumed overseas interviews with refugee applicants since Trump’s first ban, even though the ban had been struck down by the courts.
Madsen said Church World Service had only one person in line in New Jersey to be resettled in the next 120 days, but that person wouldn’t be affected because he had a special visa given to people who worked for the United States abroad.
“I wish this wasn’t even a question in the first place,” she said, talking about the case that will go before the Supreme Court. “The refugee program is a humanitarian program. This is meant to bring the world’s most vulnerable people to the U.S. so they can start a new life.”
When the Supreme Court does hear the case, it will decide on whether the ban is constitutional and whether the chief executive had legal authority to issue it.
“I’m really hopeful when they reconvene and hear the full argument, that they’ll side with what I believe is the correct decision, which is to declare the ban unconstitutional,” Kahf said.
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