By Yeganeh Torbati and Doina Chiacu
January 28, 2017
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s most far reaching action since taking office plunged America’s immigration system into chaos on Saturday, not only for refugees but for legal U.S. residents who were turned away at airports and feared being stranded outside the country.
Immigration lawyers and advocates worked through the night trying to help stranded travelers find a way back home. Lawyers in New York sued to block the order, saying many people have already been unlawfully detained, including an Iraqi who worked for the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Confusion abounded at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules, with some legal residents who were in the air when the order was issued detained at airports upon arrival.
“Imagine being put back on a 12-hour flight and the trauma and craziness of this whole thing,” said Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston. “These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here.”
The new Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. He said the moves would protect Americans from terrorism, in a swift and stern delivery on a campaign promise.
The ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and extends to green card holders who are legal permanent residents of the United States.
Arab travelers in the Middle East and North Africa said the order was humiliating and discriminatory. It drew widespread criticism from U.S. Western allies including France and Germany, Arab-American groups and human rights organizations.
Iran condemned the order as an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation” and vowed to retaliate. Of the seven countries targeted, Iran sends the most visitors to the United States each year – around 35,000 in 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The ban extends to green card holders who are authorized to live and work in the United States, Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.
It was unclear how many legal permanent residents would be affected. A senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday that green card holders from the seven affected countries have to be cleared into the United States on a case-by-case basis.
LEGAL RESIDENTS STUNNED
Legal residents of the United States were plunged into despair at the prospect of being unable to return to the United States or being separated from family members trapped abroad.
“I never thought something like this would happen in America,” said Mohammad Hossein Ziya, 33, who came to the United States in 2011 after being forced to leave Iran for his political activities.
Ziya, who lives in Virginia, has a green card and planned to travel to Dubai next week to see his elderly father. “I can’t go back to Iran, and it’s possible I won’t be able to return here, a place that is like my second country,” he said.
Saleh Taghvaeian, 36, teaches agricultural water management at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, said he feared his wife would not be able to return from Iran after a visit.
In Cairo, five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York on Saturday, sources at Cairo airport said. Dutch airline KLM [AIRF.PA] said on Saturday it had refused carriage to the United States to seven passengers from predominately Muslim countries.
Canada’s WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday in order to comply with the order. A spokeswoman did not say which country the passenger had come from.
At least three lawyers from the International Refugee Assistance Project were at the arrivals lounge at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, buried in their laptops and conference calls, photocopies of individuals’ U.S. visas on hand.
U.S. AGENCIES SCRAMBLE
In Washington, the agencies charged with handling immigration and refugee issues grappled with how to interpret the measure. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not consulted on the executive order and in some cases only learned the details as they were made public.
At the State Department, a senior official said lawyers were working closely with their counterparts at Homeland Security to interpret the executive order, which allows entry to people affected by the order when it is in the “national interest.”
However, a federal law enforcement official said, “It’s unclear at this point what the threshold of national interest is.”
Senior administration officials said it would have been “reckless” to broadcast details of the order in advance of new security measures. The officials told reporters that Homeland Security now has guidance for airlines.
They dismissed as “ludicrous” the notion that the order amounted to a “Muslim ban.” Afghanistan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Oman, Tunisia and Turkey were Muslim-majority countries not included, an official said.
Since it was announced on Friday, enforcement of the order was spotty and disorganized.
Travelers were handled differently at different points of entry and immigration lawyers were advising clients to change their destination to the more lenient airports, she said. Houston immigration lawyer Yegani said officials denied travelers with dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship from boarding planes in Canada to the United States.
The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution. In a television interview, Trump said the measure was aimed at helping Christians in Syria.
Some legal experts said that showed the order was unconstitutional, as it would violate the U.S. right to freedom of religion. But others said the president and U.S. Congress have latitude to choose who receives asylum.
Lawyers from immigration organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of two Iraqi men, one a former U.S. government worker and the other the husband of a former U.S. security contractor.
The two men had visas to enter the United States but were detained on Friday night at Kennedy airport, hours after Trump’s executive order, the lawsuit said. One of the men, former U.S. Army interpreter, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was later released.
Copyright Reuters 2017
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Mica Rosenberg, Jonathan Allen and David Ingram in New York; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)
Travel Bans Called Unjust in Middle East
By Eric Knecht and Maher Chmaytelli
CAIRO/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Arabs and Iranians planning U.S. trips reacted with fury on Saturday to new American travel curbs they said were insulting and discriminatory, as five Iraqis and a Yemeni were stopped from boarding a New York-bound flight in Cairo.
In some of seven Muslim-majority countries affected by the restrictions, would-be travellers preparing family visits, work trips or seeking to escape war reported chaotic disruption to their plans. Some said they had been humiliated.
Iran, one of the seven countries, said it would stop U.S. citizens entering the country in retaliation to Washington’s visa ban, calling it an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation”.
“It’s not right to portray huge groups of Arabs and Muslims as possible terrorists,” Najeeb Haidari, a Yemeni-American security manager in Yemen, said a day after Trump put a four-month hold on refugee arrivals and temporarily barred travellers from war-torn Syria and six other mainly Muslim nations.
“This is a stupid, terrible decision which will hurt the American people more than us or anybody else, because it shows that this president can’t manage people, politics or global relationships,” Haidari added.
Sudan called the decision to ban entry of its citizens very unfortunate in light of “historic steps” just weeks earlier to lift U.S. sanctions for cooperation on combating terrorism.
In the most sweeping use of his presidential powers since taking office a week ago, Trump signed an executive order on Friday to pause the entry of travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days.
He said separately he wanted the United States to give priority to Syrian Christians fleeing the war there. The travel curbs began immediately, causing confusion for would-be travellers with passports from the seven countries.
Sources at Cairo airport said the five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni, arriving in transit to Cairo airport, were stopped and re-directed to flights headed for their home countries despite holding valid visas. [L5N1FI0CI]
A Syrian family holding U.S. visas who had travelled overnight from Beirut to Paris was prevented from boarding a connecting flight onto Atlanta, Lebanese airport sources said. They flew back to Beirut later on Saturday.
In Doha, Qatar Airways advised passengers bound for the United States from the seven newly banned countries that they needed to have either a U.S. green card or a diplomatic visa.
Farea al-Muslimi, a U.S.-educated Yemeni political commentator with the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies said, “It’s insane – but what part of Trump is sane?”ers.”
“This punishes thousands of innocent people for things they have no control over, when the last few attacks in America had to do with radicalized U.S. citizens, not foreigners.”
A 34-year-old Sudanese man who won the U.S. Green Card lottery said he was worried he would be forbidden entry. “If I’m barred…this will destroy my life because I resigned from my work in Sudan and was preparing to settle in America,” he said.
Fariba, an Iranian-American who declined to give her family name and lives in New Jersey, said her parents would not be able to make a planned visit to celebrate Iranian New Year in March.
“What have we done to deserve such a ban? … This ban will ruin our lives. Thank you Mr. President. Are you making America great by hurting innocent people?”
Some people planning U.S. travel said the curbs would harm their careers. Others feared for the safety of their families.
In Baghdad, Bayan Adil, a doctor working in the Iraqi Health Ministry who applied for a U.S. visa to attend a medical seminar, said Iraqi academics should visit Europe instead of the United States, where they were no longer welcome.
“Trump’s decision is unfortunately a humiliating insult not only for us as academics but for all Iraqis,” she said.
Her comments were echoed by Abd Al-Jafar, a 43-year-old university professor in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, who said he had sought to go to the United States for doctoral studies.
“This decision, if implemented, will be a disaster,” he said. “I have work in Sudan and have no desire to emigrate to the U.S., just to study there. This decision is illogical.”
In Beirut, Joumana Ghazi Chehade, 34, a refugee from Yarmouk in Syria living in the Lebanese capital’s Burj al-Barajneh camp, said the decision would “destroy a lot of people”.
“Of course we’re not going to go blow anything up … All we are asking for is security and freedom.”
Mirna, an American and a mother of two living in Syria, said it was clear Trump “doesn’t want to receive Syrian Muslims … we have to expect the worst from him because he is a crazy man.”
Copyright Reuters 2017
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Noah Browning, John Davison, Khalid Abdulaziz and Ahmed Elumami.; Writing by William Maclean; editing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Helen Popper)
Canada Welcomes Refugees
By David Ljunggren and Anna Mehler Paperny
January 28, 2017
OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed those fleeing war and persecution on Saturday even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back U.S.-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
A day after U.S. President Donald Trump put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travellers from the seven countries, Trudeau said in a tweet: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”
A second tweet included an archive photo of Trudeau welcoming a Syrian refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.
Confusion abounded at airports around the world on Saturday as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new U.S. rules.
In Canada, WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday to comply with an executive order signed by Trump on Friday. WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline would give full refunds to anyone affected by the order. It did not say which country the passenger had come from.
The order would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks, the president said.
Stewart said WestJet had been informed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) that the ban did not apply to dual citizens who had passports from countries other than those covered by the ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“U.S. CBP has confirmed it is the citizenship document they present to enter the country, not the country of where they were born,” Stewart wrote in an email.
Air Canada, the country’s other major airline, said it was complying with the order but did not comment on whether it had yet denied travel to any passengers.
“We are required to ensure passengers have the required documents for entry into, or transit the countries they are travelling to,” said spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur. “In the case of these nationalities, they are not permitted to enter the U.S.”
Copyright Reuters 2017
(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Anna Mehler Paperny; Writing by Amran Abocar, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool)
Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.