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A Report From The US Immigration Frontlines

An immigration lawyer and friend of C&L reports from the immigration front under Trump...
A Report From The US Immigration Frontlines
LA International Airport, January 2017 Image from: Konrad Fiedler, AFP/Getty Images

A friend of C&L wrote to us just before the Ninth Circuit upheld the stay on Trump's Muslim Ban Executive Order:

I am an immigration attorney. My boss and his wife (the office manager) are naturalized citizens and Muslim. The two receptionists are Hispanic; both came here as young children. I, on the other hand, am Caucasian and was born in the U.S. This has led to some good-natured teasing towards me by the other people in my office over the past few weeks.(My boss joked that if I don’t get paid, it’s because the government froze his bank accounts.)

On the not-so-light side, the first week after Trump signed the Executive Order barring travel from seven nations was insane for our office. My boss has long focused his marketing towards the Muslim community in the local area, and many of our clients are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. While none of those countries were covered by the Executive Order, our front desk has been fielding calls all week from clients, asking if their family members will be allowed to come to the U.S. The best answer we could give is “at this time, yes, but matters could change.” I hated having to say that because I know it caused unnecessary fear to clients. However, it is the truth. I was very surprised that neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan were added to the list.

I obviously knew about the EO the Friday night it was signed. Saturday, I had previous plans and was away from my computer. When I got home, I read about the EO, the protests, and the attorneys who have been going to airports. At that point, however, I thought things were under control. I woke up Sunday morning and learned about the court orders, and thought that would be the end of it. Around 2, I learned the court orders were not being followed and knew I had to do something. I live about 20 minutes from a major international airport, so had my wife drive me there. I spent the next six hours (until they packed up for the evening), using my tablet to do legal research to support enforcement of the court orders.


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Tuesday morning, I went to USCIS with a client from one of the seven nations for a green card interview. The immigration officer was very nice, but that is when I learned that ALL immigration processing is on hold for citizens of those nations. (That includes citizenship applications.) Applications could be processed up to approval or denial, but the actual approval or denial could not be done. Instead, the Immigration Officers were putting files into storage boxes until processing could be completed. After the stay was ordered, my client called, asking if his wife would be processed now. All I could tell him is that it should be, but I had no idea how long it would take.

The roll-out of the EO has been a nightmare. Even people working for the government are confused as to what is going on. At another immigration interview on Friday, February 3, the Immigration Officer said the entire EO was on hold. I didn’t think that was the case and confirmed later than the court orders at that time only said that valid visa holders and legal permanent residents have to be allowed in. (The total stay currently in place was issued later that day.) The attorney volunteers in this area scouted jails and detention facilities, trying to find out if anyone was still being detained 5 days after the EO was signed since Customs and Border Patrol refused to acknowledge if they were holding anyone. (A FOIA request was filed Thursday, February 2.) My clients who are not from one of the seven nations are in a panic, wondering if their families will be targeted next. Clients from the seven nations were in an indefinite hold that can have consequences. (Eligibility for citizenship is calculated based on when someone becomes a green card holder. LPRs have benefits not available to others. Work permits were not being approved.) People with valid visas and green cards have been stopped at the border and coerced into signing documents to surrender their legal status. (While I was at the airport, a man told me about his cousin, a Ph.D. student studying in Europe. He was supposed to spend a semester studying at an ivy-league university and had a valid student visa. He was detained for 20 hours on January 28, given a form and told if he did not sign he would not be allowed into the US for 5 years. Once he signed, they stamped his visa as “invalid” and sent him back.)

I've told multiple people over the past several months that I do not worry ABOUT our clients; I worry FOR our clients. I worry that some nutjob will learn about the work we do and take it out on us or our clients. I worry about the applicants for asylum we represent, knowing their lives are in danger if they are sent back. I worry about the ignorance I see spread in social media. (Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for assistance benefits. Asylum applicants only become eligible for a work permit 6 months after their application is filed. Not all Muslim women wear head scarves, and some wear them by their own choice.)

And yet, there have been some heartwarming things. Individual attorneys and firms are volunteering to represent clients and do research pro bono. Strangers bought coffee and pastries from the nearby Starbucks and handed them out. There was a mountain of food and drinks (water, sports drinks, and soda), donated by individuals and organizations. While it makes my heart hurt to see the hate that is often spewed towards immigrants and Muslims, when I was at the airport, I was almost brought to tears more than once when random people walked by and thanked us for the work we were doing.

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