President Trump’s Executive Order Targeting Refugees and Muslims

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President Trump’s Executive Order Targeting Refugees and Muslims

Last updated FEBRUARY 10, 2017
Notes and citations available in the PDF version

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) titled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” This FAQ summarizes the EO and answers questions about the impact it has had since Trump signed it. The EO initiated a rapidly developing and changing situation. Its effects are being impacted by ongoing litigation developments, and the administration has issued—and probably will continue to issue—updated interpretations and applications of the EO. The information in this FAQ is as current as we were able to make it as of its publication date.

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If you or someone you know has been personally affected by the executive order of January 27, please help us monitor the situation by completing this short survey: www.nilc.org/travel-ban-survey*

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On Thursday, February 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision denying the Trump administration’s request that the court lift a temporary restraining order (TRO) which requires that the government not enforce most of the EO’s provisions. The TRO was issued by a federal district court in Seattle on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. The Ninth Circuit’s decision converts the TRO to a preliminary injunction, which means that the freeze on implementing certain parts of the EO will remain indefinitely unless this Ninth Circuit decision is overturned on appeal.

So, for now, refugees—including Syrians—and people who are from any of the seven countries that are designated under the EO may now travel to the U.S. without fear of being detained when they land in the U.S., or of having their lawful immigration status revoked, or of being immediately deported.

Specifically, the preliminary injunction applies to the EO provisions that (a) bar the entrance into the U.S. of any refugees for 120 days, (b) bar Syrians’ entrance indefinitely, (c) bar the entrance of people from seven designated countries (Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria), and (d) “prioritize refugee claims of certain religious minorities.”

Since the court in Seattle issued the TRO on Feb. 3, the U.S. State Department has said that revoked visas will be automatically reinstated, though we are monitoring to ensure this is happening. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has told international airlines that U.S. government authorities would reinstate visas that were previously canceled and that refugees in possession of visas would be admitted into the U.S. On Feb. 4, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press secretary, in response to the TRO that was later affirmed by the Ninth Circuit, issued a statement that begins,

In accordance with the judge’s ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled, [sic] “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

This includes actions to suspend passenger system rules that flag travelers for operational action subject to the Executive Order.

For now, the provisions of the executive order that block the entrance into the U.S. of all refugees for 120 days, of all Syrians, and of people from the seven designated countries have been put on hold. People affected by the executive order who are still outside the U.S. should still try to enter the U.S. as soon as they can, because the situation could change again as the litigation in this and other cases brought against the EO moves forward.

What does the executive order do?

The EO makes several key changes to preexisting policy. It …

Suspends the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for at least 120 days. This means that, regardless of the stage at which an applicant is in the refugee application process, their application will not move forward. (NOTE: This provision is on hold because of the Ninth Circuit’s preliminary injunction of Feb. 9, 2017.)

Indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from resettling in the U.S. (NOTE: This provision is on hold because of the Ninth Circuit’s preliminary injunction of Feb. 9, 2017.)

Bans individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries—Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days, and authorizes the secretaries of State or Homeland Security to add additional countries to this list. (NOTE: This provision is on hold because of the Ninth Circuit’s preliminary injunction of Feb. 9, 2017.)

  • It allows for exceptions on a case-by-case basis when “in the national interest,” but it is entirely unclear how this exception could be applied.
  • It applies to immigrant and nonimmigrant entries. On the same day Trump signed the EO, all nonimmigrant and immigrant visas issued to nationals of the seven countries were immediately suspended, and citizens of these countries were instructed not to attend visa interviews.
  • There have been conflicting reports about whether visas of people from the banned countries will be revoked if their bearers leave the U.S. and try to reenter, since a U.S. State Department cable issued on January 27 indicated that all valid nonimmigrant and immigrant visas issued to people from the banned countries were “provisionally” revoked. This should not apply to those currently in the U.S. but could affect people currently outside the U.S. or those who leave, when they attempt to reenter.
  • It applies to people with dual nationalities, but, because of inconsistent language, there is confusion about how they will be treated. The EO does not make exceptions for dual nationals, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection guidance states that travelers are being “admitted according to the travel document they present.” Based on this, a dual national traveling on a passport from a country that is not on the banned list should be able to enter. However, we are monitoring closely whether this guidance is being complied with.
  • While the DHS issued a clarification stating that entry of lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or “green card”–holders) is “in the national interest,” there have been numerous reports that LPRs continue to experience problems, as described below. CBP guidance states the EO “does not apply to LPRs’ entry to the United States” and references “waivers” granted to LPRs.
  • After Trump signed the EO, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also issued internal directions not to take any “final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national” of any of the seven countries. This means that asylum, permanent residence, and other applications for people from these countries are completely halted during this time. While CBP guidance states that USCIS will continue to process citizenship applications, internal instructions issued to staff on January 28 said that USCIS personnel would receive guidance later regarding how to process these applications, including for people with an approved N-400 (Application for Naturalization) who are waiting to be sworn in as U.S. citizens.

Who is the executive order impacting?

Since even before Trump signed the EO, individuals around the globe have been deeply impacted by it. Airports across the U.S. and overseas have scrambled to understand how to apply the EO, and in some cases U.S. Customs and Border Protection has explicitly refused to apply it properly, even in light of litigation challenging the executive order. Despite claims that the EO is effectively targeting individuals whose entry would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” the following examples show that regular, vulnerable people are being devastated by the EO:

  • An Iraqi refugee who is an advanced-stage breast cancer patient was detained for 6 hours at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) while her husband and four young children waited, unable to speak with her.
  • A 72-year-old, wheelchair-bound Iranian citizen with serious health issues who has been an LPR for 20 years was detained for nearly 48 hours at LAX after her plane landed at 4:15 p.m.
  • An LPR from Iran, who is scheduled to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen on February 13, 2017, arrived at LAX from a trip to Amsterdam with her infant son, a U.S. citizen. She and her mother-in-law, also an LPR, were refused entry and detained at the airport overnight.
  • A Somali woman and her two young U.S. citizen children were detained for 20 hours in Dulles Airport in Virginia, and were denied food. She was pressured to sign papers but refused.
  • A five-year-old U.S. citizen boy whose mother is from Iran was handcuffed and detained at Dulles Airport for more than four hours.

What are the legal challenges to the executive order?

Since Trump signed the EO, numerous lawsuits have been filed to challenge its legality, and more are planned.

  • NILC and partner organizations filed the first lawsuit early on the morning of January 28, the day after Trump signed the EO. A federal district court judge issued an emergency, temporary, nationwide stay of the removal from U.S. of anyone subject to the EO who had been detained in airports across the U.S.
  • On Saturday, January 28, another federal judge in Boston ordered that individuals from the seven countries who were being detained at Boston’s Logan Airport be released from detention there. A third federal court in Texas ordered that detained LPRs in the Dulles Airport be granted access to attorneys in secondary screening.
  • On Monday, January 30, Washington State filed a federal lawsuit against Trump, challenging parts of the EO.
  • Several other lawsuits, including one by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and one by NILC and partners filed in a federal district court in Maryland, filed in a federal district court in Virginia, challenge the entire EO.

Despite the resulting federal court rulings ordering that people affected by the EO not be removed from the U.S. and, in some cases, requiring that they be provided access to attorneys or released from detention, there have been widespread reports of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at all major U.S. airports refusing to comply with the orders, or detaining arriving travelers for many hours. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we will continue to update this FAQ as we receive more information.

How do I know if I am “from” one of the designated countries?

  • In an abundance of caution, it is safe to interpret “from” as broadly as possible to include anyone who was born or last permanently resided in one of the seven designated countries and who is an LPR (lawful permanent resident of the U.S.), or immigrant visa–holder, or nonimmigrant visa–holder, or special immigrant visa–holder (SIV), or who has refugee or derivative asylees status, and others.
  • Anyone who holds a passport from one of the seven designated countries is considered to be “from” that country. According to CBP guidance, however, dual nationals who are traveling on a passport from a nondesignated country should be permitted to enter the U.S.
  • Dual nationals of the United Kingdom and one of the seven designated countries have been explicitly informed that they are exempt from the EO if they are traveling on a valid UK passport and U.S. visa. Dual nationals from Canada have received similar guidance, though not through any formal written means. Even with these purported exceptions, it is important to note that CBP has not been following any DHS guidance or clarifications, or court orders, in a uniform manner.
  • The EO does not apply to individuals from the seven designated countries who are traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas.

I am a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. (LPR) from one of the seven banned countries. What do I need to know about whether I will be allowed to enter the U.S.?

After initially receiving contrary guidance from DHS and the White House about whether or not LPRs were subject to the ban, DHS Secretary John Kelly issued a statement that clarified, “[T]he entry of lawful permanent residents is in the national interest. Accordingly, absent 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.”

Despite this, there are numerous reports from various airports that this policy is being applied inconsistently here in the U.S. and that some LPRs overseas are also having trouble boarding flights to the U.S. at either the original departure city or while in transit trying to board a connecting flight.

On February 1, 2017, Donald F. McGahn II, counsel to President Trump, issued a memorandum clarifying definitively that the EO does not apply to LPRs.

Due to the many recent changes in policy and ongoing uncertainty, it is still advisable, if you are an LPR from any of the seven designated countries, to be in touch with an attorney before you travel and while you are en route. Ideally, you should have with you a completed and signed Form G-28 (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative), so that your attorney can advocate for your release if you are detained in a U.S. airport.

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If you are an LPR and are having issues with boarding a flight or entering the U.S. once in a U.S. airport, please report your experience to us by completing this short survey: www.nilc.org/travel-ban-survey

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I don’t have an immigration attorney or representative. How can I find someone to represent me?

An online directory of local organizations in the U.S. that serve low-income people is available at www.immigrationlawhelp.org. And you can access the directory of the American Immigration Lawyers Association at www.ailalawyer.com.

I am from one of the seven countries affected by the ban and am currently outside the U.S. What should I do?

If you are an LPR from one of the seven designated countries and you are currently outside the U.S., consult with an attorney who practices U.S. immigration law before you travel back to the U.S. LPRs who are not nationals of one of the seven countries should not be affected.

If you are from one of the seven affected countries and are not an LPR, you may be denied entry or face other issues at the airport if you try to reenter the U.S. Your experience may vary depending on whether you already have your visa and travel plans arranged. More detail on each situation is provided below.

I am from one of the seven countries affected by the ban and am currently outside the U.S., with plans to travel to the U.S. But I have not yet been issued a visa. What should I do?

The U.S. State Department has issued guidance stating that any nationals from the seven countries affected by the ban should not schedule or attend any visa appointment or pay any visa fees.”

Until there is further guidance, you may not be able to secure your visa. Contact an immigration attorney for further advice.

I am from one of the seven countries affected by the ban and am currently outside the U.S. I have already been issued a visa and have a flight scheduled to return to the U.S. What should I do?

Before you travel, you should get an attorney to represent you and have with you a completed and signed Form G-28 (Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative). If you cannot get a signed Form G-28 from your attorney before you travel, be sure to have the attorney’s contact information with you. You should be in touch with an immigration attorney at every step of your trip so that they can counsel you and be aware of how your case is being handled. You should also be prepared for the possibility that you may not be allowed to board your flight.

Do not sign any document that an immigration officer pressures you to sign without first consulting with an attorney!

I am inside the U.S., but I am from one of the seven designated countries. If I travel, will I be allowed back in to the U.S.?

If you are from one of the seven designated countries and are a non–U.S. citizen, LPR, or a dual citizen of one of the seven countries and another country, you should plan to delay all international travel. As noted above, dual citizens who are a citizen of one of the seven designated countries and the United Kingdom or Canada may not experience difficulties if they leave and try to enter the U.S., but the situation remains deeply in flux.

You should consult with an immigration attorney before making plans to leave the U.S. If you leave, you risk being denied reentry into the U.S. and, potentially, having your legal immigration status revoked.

I was born in one of the seven designated countries, but I relinquished my citizenship and am now only a citizen of a country/countries other than the seven designated countries. I am currently inside the U.S. If I travel, will I be allowed back in the U.S.?

It is unclear at this point how broadly DHS is interpreting what constitutes being “from” one of the seven designated countries. It is possible that you may still face problems returning to the U.S. if you leave. You should consult with an immigration attorney before making plans to leave the U.S.

What should I do if an immigration official at the airport asks me to turn over my green card or sign documents to give up my green card or immigrant visa?

Do not surrender your green card or sign anything unless your attorney is with you. There have been reports of arriving LPRs being asked to surrender their green cards and sign a Form I-407 (Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status). If you sign this form, you are giving up your LPR status. If you are asked to sign this form, you should refuse to do so and request to speak to the supervisor who handles admissions of LPRs.

When speaking with the supervisor, emphasize these things: (1) your ties to the U.S. (provide details that show that your home is the U.S.), (2) the specific reason why you traveled outside the U.S., and (3) that you expected to return to the U.S. on a specific date, or, if you were not able to plan an exact return date or to return on the planned date, the specific reasons why you were not able to.

I am not from one of the seven designated countries, but I am currently visiting one of those countries. Will I be able to reenter the U.S.?

The EO applies only to individuals “from” the seven countries. If you are not from one of those countries and just visited one of the countries, you should not be banned from reentering the U.S. However, due to the fact that entities around the world involved in international travel—airports, airlines, airline officials, customs and immigration officials, foreign government officials—as well as different branches of the U.S. government are not uniformly following guidance (which itself is not uniform) issued since the EO was signed, you may still experience problems and questioning when boarding your flight or upon arrival in the U.S.

I am not from one of the seven designated countries, but I recently traveled to one of them and am now back in the U.S. If I travel outside the country, will I be banned from entering the U.S. because I previously traveled to one of the seven countries?

Again, the executive order applies only to individuals “from” any of the seven designated countries. However, based on reports we have heard from numerous airports, you may face increased screening and secondary questioning as to your motives for having traveled to one of the designated countries.

I am from one of the seven designated countries. After my flight arrived in the U.S., I was detained and deported back overseas. Is there anything I can do now?

You may be able to return to the U.S., as your deportation may have been unlawful. More information about what to do if you are in this situation will be published as it becomes available.

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If you were detained and deported as a result of the EO, please report your experience to us by completing this short survey: www.nilc.org/travel-ban-survey