On day 7 of his Administration, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued his third executive order on immigration, titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. Of the three issued so far, this immigration order imposing a 90-day ban on “nationals of countries of particular concern,” suspending the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and blocking Syrian refugees indefinitely is the most controversial. It led to widespread protests, outcry from some world leaders, federal court litigation, and confusion over how the order will be enforced.
Here is a description of Trump’s executive order on protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States, including the potential effects and impact:
Authority: In the order, Trump cites to the Constitution and federal laws, such as the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) and 3 U.S.C. 301, as grounds for his presidential authority.
The president may set the policy and practices of immigration agencies and officials, in compliance with federal law set by Congress and the U.S. Constitution.
Purpose: Referring to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the order notes, “State Department policy prevented consular officers from properly scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.” It further states that amendments to the visa process, after September 11, “did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States.”
The order next generalizes, “Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program.”
The order states the U.S. must not admit the following persons:
- Those who bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles
- Those who do not support the Constitution
- Those who would place violent ideologies over American law
- Those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own)
- Those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation
1. 90-Day Suspension of Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen)
The President invoked section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), to declare that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens (nationals) from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to U.S. interests.
The order does not specifically list the “countries of particular concern.” But a reference to section 217(a)(12) (Visa Waiver Program for certain visitors), the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (signed by President Obama in December 2015, as a rider on an omnibus spending bill), and related announcements indicate they are Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. The White House has confirmed these seven countries are affected by the temporary ban.
The order suspends entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of the order. The exceptions are foreign nationals 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. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may also, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.
The order explains the 90-day suspension is to “reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period,” prioritize resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and implement adequate standards to bar foreign terrorists or criminals from entering the U.S.
The President instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to determine the information needed from any country to ensure visas, admission, or other immigration benefits are not issued to persons posing a security or public-safety threat. They have 30 days to submit a report on the results of their review to the President. The report must include the Secretary’s determination of what information is needed to issue visas and other immigration benefits, plus a list of countries that do not provide adequate information.
The Secretary of State must then request all foreign governments that do not provide the required information on their nationals to start doing so within 60 days. After the 60-day period, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, must provide a list of countries that do not provide the information requested. The President may then issue another proclamation prohibiting the entry of nationals from those countries (except persons with 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), until compliance occurs.
2. Implement Uniform Screening Standards for All Immigration Programs
The order calls for a uniform screening standard and procedure, including:
- in-person interviews for all applicants;
- a database of identity documents provided by applicants;
- amended application forms that include questions aimed at identifying fraudulent answers and malicious intent;
- a mechanism to ensure that the applicant is who the applicant claims to be;
- a process to evaluate the applicant’s likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society and the applicant’s ability to make contributions to the national interest;
- a mechanism to assess whether or not the applicant has the intent to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.
3. Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017
The order suspends refugee admissions for 120 days. During this period, the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure refugee status is not granted to those who pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement these procedures.
Refugee applicants who are already in the USRAP process must first complete these revised procedures before they are admitted to the U.S. After the 120-day period expires, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have determined the additional procedures are enough to protect national security.
Once refugee admissions resume, priority will be given to refugee claims made by persons on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided the religion is a minority religion in the person’s country of nationality. The Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation that would assist with such prioritization.
The order bars Syrian refugees indefinitely. It states, ” the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States” and suspends their entry until the President determines sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure their admission is consistent with the national interest.
The order adds, “the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States,” and suspends their entry until the President determines additional admissions would be in the national interest.
During the suspension, refugees may be admitted on a case-by-case basis, but only if it is in the national interest — including when the person is a religious minority in his country facing religious persecution, when admitting the person would enable the U.S. to abide by a preexisting international agreement, or when the person is in transit and denying admission would cause undue hardship — and it would not pose a risk to national security.
The order also seeks to give state and local jurisdictions a role in deciding the placement or settlement of refugees in their states and cities.
4. Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System
The order directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric entry-exit tracking system for all travelers to the United States, as recommended by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
5. Visa Interview Security
The order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program (not the Visa Waiver Program). The VIWP allowed consular officers to exempt low-risk/no-risk applicants from in-person interviews if they met certain criteria, including seeking to renew their temporary visas within a year of expiration.
Effects and Impact
1. Temporary banning of nationals from certain countries
The Trump Administration insists the temporary suspension is not a “Muslim ban,” but a temporary halt to better prevent terrorists attacks in the United States.
Section 212 (f) of the Immigration & Nationality Act allows the President to suspend entry or impose travel restrictions in the national interest. It states:
Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.
This is the first time a President, however, has used the statute to ban an entire nation from designated countries. The non-discrimination provision of 8 U.S.C. 1152(a)(1)(A) also states, “no person shall…be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.”
Because the White House says the order aims to stop terrorist attacks, which is in the national interest, critics question why certain countries are not on the list and others are. Of the 19 hijackers involved in the September 11th terrorist attack, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. No fatal terrorist attacks were carried out by nationals from the seven countries targeted by Trump’s ban.
The Trump Administration pointed out the seven countries on the list originated from a law that Obama signed, in which nationals of or persons who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria Libya, Somalia, and Yemen are prohibited from using the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and must obtain visas to enter the U.S. The VWP allows citizens of more than 30 countries to visit the U.S. without a visa, as long as they are eligible (e.g. have no immigration violations) and seek entry as a tourist for 90 days or less.
Trump’s order banning entry of nationals from certain countries – even when they have valid visas or entry documents – is unprecedented. Although the suspension is temporary, the order indicates it could become permanent if the countries do not provide adequate information on their nationals, as requested by the U.S. government. The Administration has also said the list could expand to include other countries.
War-torn countries with dysfunctional governments are unlikely to have or to hand over reliable information or public records on their nationals. Yet the order allows for a Presidential proclamation to continue a ban on nationals from countries that do not provide requested information.
Trump’s order went into effect as soon as he signed it. Airlines and immigration agencies were confused about how to enforce the ban. To date, the latest information is as follows:
U.S. citizens. Persons who hold a U.S. passport – whether as a natural-born or naturalized citizen – will be admitted to the country. The U.S. Customs & Border Protection, however, has authority to question citizens, especially if they have traveled to designated countries.
Dual citizens. Persons who hold a passport from a designated country and a passport from a non-designated country may choose how they present themselves for entry. Dual nationals should present the passport from the non-designated country, with a valid visa, to be admitted to the U.S. But they may be subject to questioning by the CBP, especially if they have traveled to designated countries.
Lawful permanent residents. Green card holders, even when they hold passports from designated countries, will be admitted to the U.S., absent derogatory information. They may, however, be subject to secondary inspection by the CBP just as they have always been.
Trump’s order bans immigrants (permanent residents/green card holders) from the countries of concern, but states a waiver may be issued in the national interest. In a statement issued on January 29, DHS Secretary John Kelly provided a blanket waiver stating, “I hereby deem the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest.” Kelly added, “Accordingly, absent the receipt of 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.”
Nonimmigrants from designated countries. Persons from designated countries will not be allowed to enter the U.S. as a visitor or in any other nonimmigrant visa category (except 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). They may withdraw their application for admission and avoid an expedited removal order.
2. Heightened screening of applicants for visas and all other immigration benefits
Trump’s order includes revisions to the screening standard and procedures for persons applying for immigration benefits (e.g. nonimmigrant visas, immigrant visas, and permanent resident status). It involves amendments to the application forms to detect fraud and malicious intent.
The U.S. immigration agencies and State Department currently use stringent screening methods and require heavy documentation before they issue immigration benefits. Fingerprints are taken and background checks are run before the benefit is granted.
The Form DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-260 immigrant visa application, and Form I-485 application for permanent residence include screening questions related to the person’s identity, travel history, immigration violations, and criminal history. They also include security and background questions, such as whether the person has ever been a member of a terrorist organization or committed any terrorist activity.
Adding more questions to the application forms is unlikely to reveal material information on the person’s propensity or intent to commit terrorist acts. The questions should also not result in discrimination based on protected grounds (e.g religious beliefs) or elicit irrelevant information (e.g. only naturalization applicants are required to support the Constitution).
A review of attacks linked to radicalized Muslims in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001, does not indicate a high correlation between lack of visa screening and terrorist attacks:
- 2016 – Omar Mateen shot dead 49 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Although his parents were from Afghanistan, he was born in New York.
- 2015 – Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik shot dead 14 people at an office in San Bernardino, Ca., before they were killed. He was born in Chicago to parents from Pakistan. She was born in Pakistan and raised mostly in Saudi Arabia.
- 2015 – Mohammad Abdulazeez opened fire at two military recruiting centers in Chattanooga, Tenn., killing five U.S. military personnel. He was a naturalized American who was born in Kuwait to parents who were Jordanian and Palestinian.
- 2013 – Two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev carried out the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three. Tamerlan was born in the Soviet Union (now southern Russia), and Dzokhar was born in Kyrgyzstan. They were admitted to the U.S. on visitor visas as young children, along with their parents, before they were granted asylum and then permanent residence.
- 2009 – Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, shot dead 13 in Ft. Hood, Texas. Hasan was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents who had immigrated from the West Bank.
- 2009 – Abdulhakim Muhammad shot and killed an Army private at a recruiting center in Little Rock. He was born in Memphis to a Christian family, but converted to Islam and changed his name from Carlos Bledsoe.
Extreme vetting, as Trump calls it, could slow down visa and green card processing, deter family reunification, affect U.S. businesses in need of foreign national talent, and discourage travel to the U.S. that benefits the economy. Immediately after the order was issued, U.S. Consulates stopped processing visas, cancelled visa interviews, and revoked visas when the applicant is a national of a designated country. USCIS also suspended green card processing for persons affected by the executive order.
3. Restricting refugee admissions
The 120-day suspension of the refugee program and indefinite ban on entry of all Syrian refugees has been met with strong opposition. Refugees have not been linked to terrorists attacks in the U.S., as the executive order seems to claim.
Refugees are among the most vulnerable groups in the world. They must show they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion in their country to obtain refugee status in the U.S.
Refugees undergo thorough background checks and heavy scrutiny to be admitted to the country. They face recurrent vetting (background checks) throughout the refugee screening process. Those who are cleared to come to the U.S. must apply for a green card within one year, which requires a new cycle of vetting. Because rigorous screening already exists for refugees, the ban is criticized for being overreaching and discriminatory.
According to the executive order, priority will be given to applicants who are suffering religious-based prosecution, but only if they are minorities in their country. Trump said the move would protect Christians in Muslim-majority countries, which critics say amounts to religious discrimination.
Giving more power to states and localities to determine the placement of refugees in their jurisdiction is also subject to legal challenges. Based on reports that one person involved in the November 2015 Paris terror attacks was carrying a Syrian passport (which may have been fake or stolen, according to subsequent reports), 31 governors said they opposed letting Syrian refugees into their states. While states have some discretion as to whether their agencies participate in the federally funded Refugee Resettlement Program, they may not refuse assistance to refugees based on race, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion. They may also not prevent refugees from moving into their state.
4. Tracking entries and exits
The biometric entry-exit screening system aims to track foreign visitors’ arrival and departure using information like fingerprints. Such a system was first required by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act signed by President Clinton in 1996. It was further recommended by the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission in 2004.
The “entry” part of the system is in place. Persons who enter the U.S. on a visa or the Visa Waiver Program normally provide biometric information (fingerprints and a digital photograph) to U.S. border officials. Outside of a few pilot programs, travelers face no biometric exit screening.
CBP previously issued a paper Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), which was to be turned into the commercial carrier or CBP upon departure. CBP switched to scanning a traveler’s passport, generating an electronic arrival record with data elements found on the current paper Form I-94, and making the electronic I-94 available on its website. CBP records departures electronically via manifest information provided by the carrier or its own system.
In a fiscal year 2016 report to Congress, then-Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, announced CBP would redouble its efforts to complete the biometric entry/exit system, and begin implementing biometric exit, starting at the highest volume U.S. airports, in 2018.
This report noted that about 99% of nonimmigrant visitors arriving at air and sea ports of entry complied with the terms of their admission. It added the biometric exit program is not limited to collecting biometric information from a departing passenger, but must also help ensure the passenger actually departs the U.S.
The report stated that obstacles included existing infrastructure at U.S. airports, which did not support biometric exit control procedures. Thus, “deploying an effective biometric exit system includes designing and developing a new process for verifying departure where none exists today and doing so in a very complex and time-sensitive operational environment.”
For the system to work properly, it needs to cover all land, air, and sea ports of entry, which is a major undertaking. Trump’s order to expedite the entry-exit system is a continuation of prior Administrations’ efforts.
5. Suspending the Visa Interview Waiver Program
The suspension of the Visa Interview Waiver Program means consular officers must interview all visa applicants, regardless of whether they previously met the criteria for a visa grant without an interview. Children under age 14, applicants over age 80, and applicants whose visas recently expired may no longer obtain visa renewals without an in-person interview at the Consulate.
In-person interviews for low-risk/no-risk applicants could make even routine applications more complicated and time consuming and create bottlenecks at U.S. Consulates handling frequent visitors. Discouraging tourism and visits to the U.S. by law-abiding persons may result from this new inconvenience.
The 90-day bar on entry of nationals from affected countries, 120-day suspension of the refugee program, and indefinite ban on Syrian refugees triggered fear and uncertainty among immigrant groups. After the executive order was issued, nationals of designated countries with valid visas and refugees who had completed the screening process were prevented from boarding flights or denied entry to the U.S.
Although the White House deems the suspension as temporary, the executive order states all the timelines may be extended by a new Presidential proclamation. In the meantime, the situation is in flux due to legal challenges and the Administration’s backing down on certain aspects. Dozens of federal court lawsuits have been filed to challenge the bans. Attorney Generals of several states, including Minnesota, Washington, New York, Virginia and Massachusetts, are also taking legal action against the ban, calling it unconstitutional.
On January 28, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York was the first to issue an emergency stay of removal, preventing the Department of Homeland Security from removing individuals with approved refugee status, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen legally authorized to enter the United States.
On February 3, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, in Seattle, issued a restraining order temporarily blocking the ban on entry to the United States, nationwide. Visa holders and refugees from the designated countries may be admitted to the U.S. while the court order is in effect. The White House vowed to fight it.
This article provides general information only. It is based on law, regulations and policy that are subject to change. Do not consider it as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Each legal case is different and case examples do not constitute a prediction or guarantee of success or failure in any other case. The sharing or receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship.