It’s official. We’ve now entered the Trump Era as evidenced by the recent slew of executive orders emanating from the White House.
One particularly disturbing Executive Order (“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”) was issued late Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, which barred the entry of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) for 90 days. At the same time, the Order declared refugee processing of individuals from any country suspended for 120 days while Syrian refugees would be banned indefinitely.
This effectively means a ban on both nonimmigrants and immigrants with newly-issued visas from entry if they hold passports from the aforementioned countries; including, as well, people with previously-issued visas or returning refugees and asylees, all of whom have been in the United States for some time but had the unfortunate luck of being outside the United States for a brief visit abroad when President Trump issued his Order. How many were affected? In federal court in Virginia on Friday, February 3, a government attorney informed the judge that more than 100,000 visas had been revoked since the Order came out a week earlier. (The State Department later reported the figure was closer to 60,000 visas.)
With the passage of time, more information about implementation of the Order has become known. Dual nationals, for example, connected to one of the aforementioned countries would be allowed entry provided they held a passport, containing the appropriate visa, that was issued by a country other than the list of seven. Individuals with permanent resident cards would be allowed entry but subject to extra scrutiny. And, U.S. citizens from those countries would be allowed to return.
These agency clarifying remarks have slowly trickled in since issuance of the Executive Order on January 27. (And, in some cases, these clarifying remarks themselves contradict one another since several different agencies are involved in the immigration process.) Over the weekend immediately following the Order, there were reports from around the country suggesting a chaotic and disturbing situation. Lacking key guidance from the White House about the Order’s implementation, officials were inconsistent in how they handled entries with much depending on where one entered and the inspection officer encountered. Some, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents, were reportedly being detained at the airport and even “encouraged” to return to their country of departure. Clearly, the Trump administration failed to articulate procedures for the Order (or vet it with the appropriate agencies beforehand, for that matter) and effectively presented it as a general ban on Muslims coming from those seven countries.
With that came swift legal action seeking to stop this Kafkaesque episode, arguing the Order at its most basic level violated our Constitution. As time passed and more federal courts around the country reviewed the Order, many of its troubling aspects became disturbingly apparent. So apparent, in fact, that a lawsuit initiated by the state of Washington and later joined by Minnesota resulted late Friday, February 3, in issuance of a temporary restraining order by a Seattle federal district court, effectively stopping implementation of the Order.
It’s been an eventful week with more, no doubt, to follow. I think most reasonable people would agree that President Trump’s Executive Order was poorly planned and, frankly, smacked of overkill and theatrics – swatting a fly with a sledge hammer, all without any sense of nuance or proportion.
It’s becoming ever more apparent that President Trump’s views on governance have been shaped by his limited experience running a family-held company organized along rigid hierarchical lines, with a clear chain of command, and a single authority figure at the helm. But, that’s not the type of system we have in the United States and hopefully President Trump is not set on remaking our system of government into one with power lodged in the hands of a single supreme leader. We have a federal republic subject to the Constitution, laying out the power to be shared by the federal government (i.e., its three branches) and states, all run by representatives elected by the People. Our system is one based on checks and balances, designed by the Founders to ensure that power is not centralized in one individual or branch. They knew full well the ill effects of centralized power. Let’s not forget it, either.
President Trump, you can do better.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has practiced immigration law exclusively for more than 25 years with an emphasis on asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief, family and marriage-based immigration, naturalization, removal defense, appeals, religious workers, and H-1B, L, and E-2 visas.