Getting To The Bottom Of The Immigration Ban

02/16/2017 02:34 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2017

Today’s post brought to you by Melissa Vo!

Whether you were affected, confused or just plain curious about the order, this piece is for you. This article seeks to answer a few pervasive questions: What happened? What even is a refugee? Are there differences between Trump’s order and Obama’s 2011 policy? Who did the order affect and how were they affected? Lastly, what should I do?

What happened and what’s to come

On January 27, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order temporarily banning immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, and from Syria indefinitely. The order’s full text can be found here. After a tumultuous couple weeks, the ban has since been lifted.

A Seattle federal judge named James Robart temporarily blocked enforcement of Trump’s travel ban in its entirety. On February 9th, 2017, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Seattle judge and completely repudiated the White House’s attempt to restore the travel ban. Why? The constitutionality of the ban was put into question, and the government did not offer sufficient justification for why refugees and immigrants from seven specific countries were singled out as immediate threats.

Trump immediately tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT,” which is likely a threat to appeal the decision and possibly an indication that this issue will soon be disputed again in front of the Supreme Court. Alternatively, Trump and his administration have suggested nixing the old order and instead drafting a new executive order to limit immigration.

Immigration Terms You Should Know

Before we dive into policy, let’s start with some basic terms that are critical to understanding US immigration.

A lawful permanent resident is a green-card holder. A green-card allows you to stay in the U.S. as long as you want with no expiration date - as long as you don’t commit crimes or violate the green-card terms.

A nonimmigrant visa is a temporary pass that lets someone stay in the U.S. for a specific amount of time. In contrast, an immigrant visa allows someone stay with the opportunity to become a permanent resident and apply for a green card. In order to obtain an immigrant visa, a U.S. citizen needs to petition for it on behalf of the immigrant.

A refugee or asylum seeker is different from an illegal immigrant. A refugee is a person outside of their country who is unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm. He or she applies for asylum and then goes through security checks and vetting.

Asylum is legal permission to stay in a country based on well-founded fear of persecution in one’s home country. Vetting means to evaluate a person or thing, either as an appraisal, or for approval. See ‘extreme vetting’.

Policy You Should Understand

People have asked whether, in 2011, Obama enacted immigration policies similar to Trump’s. Though there are some limited similarities, Trump’s executive order and Obama’s 2011 policy are fundamentally different.

Here’s a quick summary of the key differences between Obama’s policy and Trump’s executive order:

(For a more in-depth look at the differences between the two policies, please stay tuned.)

What you can do

The order caused global confusion for those trying to travel into the United States. The ban is no longer in place, meaning refugees and people from those seven countries can still enter the U.S.

However, if you or a loved one fall into any of the affected categories, travel to and from any of the seven countries is still discouraged without first contacting an immigration attorney.

The legal dispute will likely remain in limbo for some time ahead. With rising raid operations to deport undocumented immigrants the past couple weeks, Trump is delivering on his promise to crack down on immigration. Especially if you are uncertain of your own legal status, speak with an attorney. Be cautious when traversing murky waters, stay vigilant and informed, and seek legal counsel.

Other Resources:

  • Non-Profit Organizations: Organizations like HIAS do incredible work helping non-citizens navigate complex immigration rules
  • Borderwise: Borderwise has an online forum for free answers from immigration lawyers and is offering to help immigrants from low income families prepare attorney-reviewed green card applications for $1. (Full disclosure: I’m a blogger at Borderwise).

None of the above should be relied upon as legal advice. The article is neither legal advice or a substitute for the same. Reading and/or following the advice does not create any attorney-client relationship.

Melissa Vo is a third-year law student in Philadelphia. She is an in-house legal intern and blogger at Borderwise.

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