Golden Door No More: An Overview of Trump’s Immigration Executive Order & What It Means to Me

Myself, pictured at Washington Square Park at an emergency rally last Wednesday

I, like so many others both in the US and abroad, am deeply disturbed by the recent executive orders issued by the president, in particular those concerning immigration, reproductive rights, and the construction of a wall on our Southern border. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to become enraged, hopeless, and emotionally invested in shaming ignorant online banter.

However, in the midst of these political disruptions, it is important to have factual information circulating as widely as possible in an effort to develop an effective means of resistance. It is equally important to understand how these executive orders potentially affect everyone, be it nationally or internationally, citizens or undocumented persons, physically or emotionally.

It is vital that we recognize much of this chaos is due to the current administration’s little regard for basic governing. Federal agencies were simply not kept up to speed; the executive order was released even before the Department of Homeland Security could review its legality. Even lawyers representing the government in court after the ACLU (and other groups) filed lawsuits displayed a clear confusion reminiscent of federal agencies haphazardly implementing an already unclear order. Immigration is a collaborative interagency effort with global impact, and the Trump administration’s failure to appreciate this sets a dangerous precedent.

Chaos births confusion, and with confusion the disregard for rule of law. Despite federal judges in New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts ordering a temporary halt to the deportation component of the order, reports of ‘rogue’ customs and border agents trying to coerce travelers to agree to involuntary departures have emerged. An additional dangerous precedent.

As many of you already know, for 120 days, the executive order blocks the US Refugee Admission Program, halting resettlement for refugees abroad awaiting resettlement, but also indefinitely banning resettlement for all Syrian refugees.

For 90 days, the order, written by a small team overseen by heavily-accused anti semite Steve Bannon, bans the entry of all persons (excluding foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas) from 7 predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Yemen), effectively banning 218 million people from entering the United States on suspicions of terrorism. It has also cut the target resettlement number by more than half, declaring that no more than 50,000 refugees will be admitted for fiscal year 2017. The order calls for more stringent screening processes, and for data collection to ensure that information on foreign nationals radicalized after entry and convicted of terrorism will be released to the public every 180 days.

Lastly, the order justifies these increased measures by first citing the September 11th attacks, then mentioning specific forms of violence such as honor killings and the persecution of religious minorities. This is ironic given that none of the individuals who executed the Sept 11th attacks are from the countries targeted in the executive order. In this spirit of irony, Trump’s desire to give Christians and religious minorities priority fell short when his executive order effectively blocked an Iraqi Yazidi woman from boarding her flight to the US. A few respected media outlets have also noted a striking correlation between the countries not listed (some of which the Sept. 11th attackers hailed from) and the current president’s business ventures.

While it is true that the current administration used the list of 7 countries banned in the executive order based off of restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program implemented during the Obama administration, those restrictions did not ban travel or admission into the US. This was explicitly stated in a press release from the Department of Homeland Security last February, highlighting the significant differences between the administrations’ executive actions.

The current executive order also claims that numerous foreign born individuals who either received visas or entered through the US refugee resettlement program have been implicated in numerous terrorism related crimes, which is categorically false in the context of refugees. If you are an American, it is far more likely that you will be killed by an American born citizen rather than a refugee. Knowing these facts, we must ask: who is actually affected?

Given that it was issued immediately without much input from other federal agencies, it is difficult to gauge the full scope of who all will be affected — we can speculate on some folks, but have a hard time recognizing a possibilities for others.

Americans abroad, in particular those enlisted in our armed forces, are now at further risk in the 7 countries listed in the travel ban, especially those in Iraq. The governments of both Iran and Iraq may be planning retaliatory measures in response, which may include banning all visas from the US, including those from contractors and journalists. The order also serves as a recruiting tool for extremists, whose rhetoric concerning America’s hatred of Muslims has been all but validated by the current administration’s decision.

In terms of immigration, the executive order has been most confusing for green card holders. As of Saturday, all green card holders from the 7 listed countries, who are all legal, permanent residents, would be denied re-entry without a re screening process. In addition to this, dual citizens who have nationality or dual nationality (excluding US citizens) with one of the countries listed are not permitted to enter the country for 90 days.

This past Sunday (1/29), the DHS released a statement saying the entry of lawful permanent residents is in the national interest. As you might have noticed by now, the Trump administration, DHS, and other immigration agencies are clearly not on the same page. This may be why the president recently replaced the acting head of the ICE with 33 year old law enforcement veteran Thomas Homan, who oversaw the ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. Trump also fired Attorney General Sally Yates, who refused to defend his executive order on immigration. These swift moves insinuate what future immigration policies might look like under the Trump administration.

In terms of the numbers, a senior official from the DHS released a statement late Saturday night. According to Dean Schabner and Michael Edison Hayden from ABC News, the aforementioned official listed the following figures: “375 travelers have been impacted in one way or another by the executive order. Of those 375 travelers, 109 were in transit to the U.S. and denied entry, 173 were denied entry to the U.S. prior to boarding their flights in a foreign port, and 81 were granted waivers because of their legal permanent resident or special immigrant visa (SIV) status.”

These travelers included Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkaleq Alshawi, two Iraqi SIV holders who assisted the US government, detained and prevented from leaving JFK international airport. They have since been released. Niki Mossafer Rahmati, a student at MIT visiting her home in Tehran for winter break, was unable to board her connecting flight; she holds a multiple entry student visa, and was one of 30 Iranians stranded at the airport in Doha, Qatar.

There are also reports of two Harvard Medical School affiliates unable to travel back to the US to complete their research. During the 2015–2016 school year, Iran sent over 12,000 students to the US to study, many of whom are unable to travel home, but all of whom that have made outstanding contributions to our academic institutions.

What is clear is that this ban will devastate refugees around the world, most particularly Syrian refugees and their families. Families like the Badats in Dearborn, Michigan, who wept with their daughter, Enas, in Ankara, Turkey, over Whatsapp the Sunday morning after the ban went into effect. The ban on Syrian refugees has no end date. Enas is 25, pregnant, and due in March.

The executive order aims to cut the target resettlement number from 110,000 to 50,000 refugees. 60,000 refugees, thousands of whom have already been approved for resettlement, will have gone from a devastating exodus to an indefinite limbo.

Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted immigrant group in the US. In order to legally claim refugee status, a person must prove their persecution due to their belonging to a social group through an administrative process called Refugee Status Determination enacted by a government or UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). Once granted refugee status, they undergo biographic and biometric checks, medical screenings, forensic document testing, and in-person interviews. This is all before setting foot on American soil. The process can take more than 2 years. What vetting could be more extreme than having to prove your identity to 12 to 15 different federal agencies after proving your persecution and escaping intolerable conditions?

After a useless argument with an old colleague on Facebook I realized that many Americans are blissfully unaware of these processes, and respond to these executive orders in a callous or even humorous manner. I have made it a point on my social media accounts to declare that those who support these executive orders are no friends of mine, and are not welcome in my life. Some may think these measures are draconian, but the blatant disregard for human rights is even more so. For me, it is not about conservatives, but consciousness. For me, this is not a political issue, but a moral one. Those who hold me in disdain for this, I imagine, lack an understanding of the physical repercussions of politics, and how quickly the politics of a country become personal.

I don’t expect people like my old colleague to understand my summer landscaping with undocumented Central American migrants. To call them hardworking minimizes the reality of their hardship, these are people who worked 60 hours a week outdoors in the summer heat using trucks with no air conditioning for $9.75 an hour. People that worked themselves into nothing to ensure a secure future for their families, a sacrifice that you think would be ubiquitously understood by an administration so vehemently pro life.

I don’t expect people like my old colleague to understand the refugee resettlement process through a screen, but experience. They didn’t sit in a job center in the Bronx for hours with Syrian parents who simply needed the funds to provide for their children after arriving in the US with nothing. They weren’t invited by those same parents for lunch at the temporary safe house where they were staying. I knew what was in their kitchen because a fellow intern and myself bought their groceries before they arrived.

These were parents who escaped one of the most apocalyptic humanitarian disasters of our time, who waited for over a year to be resettled and managed to keep their family together across multiple continents now serving me hummus and tea while encouraging me to speak my broken Arabic. They don’t need more screenings. They need human beings.

My old colleague didn’t sit in a doctor’s office accompanying a Syrian refugee with a degree in psychology, a Colombian asylee separated from their son, and a multilingual Afghan SIV holder who assisted the US government. They didn’t speak to the Congolese mother who waited 7 years to be granted asylum in the US. They didn’t see the Muslim refugees we fed for iftaar during Ramadan, many of whom we enrolled in food stamps that week, but this didn’t stop them from giving their leftover food to the homeless. They don’t know the Congolese refugee who risked their safety to help me write my senior thesis. They didn’t know that same Congolese refugee lives off of the equivalent of $8 a month.

My old colleague didn’t hear the cry of a newborn child born in Kiziba Refugee camp where one doctor served 12,000 people three times a week. They surely didn’t meet the Congolese refugees in that same camp in the western regions of Rwanda, housed in temporary permanent structures of mud, sticks and plastic sheets.

I remove myself from anyone who supports these executive orders because they are cruel: detaining individuals who aided our government, blocking students from returning to school, denying refugees granted asylum, and separating families indefinitely. They inherently discriminate against people who are partly responsible for who I am today. Refugees and immigrants have forever shaped my outlook, their stories embedded into my memory, serving as a testament of human strength and resilience to emulate on a regular basis. Their migration stimulates economies, and their contributions sustain countries. Will we respond to their struggle by shackling them upon arrival?

Will we continue to let the bodies of those seeking asylum wash up on European shores, or avert our gaze from the oppressive conditions of temporary permanence in African refugee camps? Will our predominantly Christian nation close its borders and conveniently forget its own parables in the heat of xenophobia and racism? If Bethlehem had immigration policies similar to the executive order 2000 years ago, there would be no Christians for Trump to prioritize. Will we let our world’s immigrants and refugees continue to live in limbo, as Moses led the Israelites for 40 years of wandering through wilderness? Or will we recognize them as sojourners, worthy of asylum and capable in their own right, so that one day they too, may find, create, or return to, a Promised Land of their own.