Activism

The Mere Proposal of a Muslim Ban Has Made Life More Oppressive for Visa Holders and Travelers

Immigrant and refugee advocates have their hands full.

Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr Creative Commons

The airport protesters may have gone home, but the fight for immigrant rights in the era of Trump continues. While much of the work to fight the Muslim ban is taking place in courts rather than in the streets, activists still see multiple causes for alarm and protest. Late Thursday night, the Department of Justice asked the court to review its appeal and allow the federal government to reinstate the March version of the travel ban while the appeal is in process.

At the same time those affected by the Muslim ban worry about the future of their travel ability to and from the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests have increased sharply, and the Trump administration has offered a much less than expected extension of a program providing temporary residency for Haitian refugees. And these are just three of the issues immigration advocates are currently concerned about. 

Fear of Travel: Lingering Impacts of the Muslim Ban

While the deluge of detentions following the first Muslim ban has slowed following an appeals court decision against it, refugee advocates and citizens of the six majority-Muslim countries named in the ban, including residents of those countries who served alongside American soldiers, are still experiencing an alarming number of secondary detentions at the hands of Customs and Border Patrol agents at airports. 

There’s “an increasing number of strange incidents involving special immigrant visa holders,” explained Elizabeth Foydel, policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), in a phone interview. “They’ve already gone through a pretty intense security process” to get the visa in the first place. Prior to the Trump administration, Foydel had never heard of a special visa recipient being detained when they arrive.

Every case is different, she said, but “collectively, we're seeing a pattern of much lengthier secondary inspection, refused entry or deportation without a lot of reason behind it.” Foydel has heard similar reports from Indian passport holders, even though India was never on Trump’s list. Part of the issue is that even without a specific executive order, CBP has a high "level of discretion... over who should be kept in secondary detention for a long time or even deported. Within that discretion there is potential for abuse." 

That means even when detention isn't imminent, fear of it is. Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, explained that "people are pulled into secondary inspection, but... not necessarily because of the ban." While she's not hearing as many reports of detentions on January's scale, "people are afraid of traveling, absolutely... It was never about just the seven countries [in the original ban]. People all over the world were worried... our most frequent calls are from people afraid to travel." There's a sense, though Mackler was clear to mention it's just a guess, "that America is not quite welcoming."

Sharp Increase in ICE Arrests

Activists are also alarmed by a sharp increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, an increase in secondary detentions at airports (despite multiple legal challenges to the travel ban) and a new end date for a program designed to protect those seeking asylum from wars and natural disasters.

ICE agents arrested 41,000 undocumented immigrants during Trump’s first 100 days in office, a 38 percent increase over the same three-month period in 2016.

Those arrested during the raids are not the gang members and high-powered drug dealers Attorney General Jeff Sessions would have America believe. As the Sacramento Bee reported, “arrests of those without criminal records—of immigrants whose only violation was being in the country illegally—increased by 156 percent, from 4,242 people in 2016 to 10,845.”

Instead, they include kitchen staff at an Ann Arbor restaurant detained in the middle of a shift; parents arrested during once routine immigration check-ins; and a DREAM program recipient arrested after a press conference speaking out against Trump’s immigration policies. A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer even showed up at a school in Queens, New York, sending the community into an uproar. USCIS officials were quick to report that the visit was simply to confirm information reported on routine paperwork, but as Natalia Renta, a staff attorney at the advocacy organization Make the Road New York, told AlterNet, “it's unacceptable to have immigration officers in school."

Advocates say that while deportation was alarmingly common under the Obama administration (a record 2.8 million people were deported), there was frequently more advance warning. As Renta explained, “he had a list of people who were priorities. We could give people a good assessment... It takes a lot less... There’s definitely been a change in the sense that there are more people being apprehended, and it's more unpredictable.”

As a recent NPR report explained, many undocumented immigrants were previously not in hiding: “Hundreds of thousands of them report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a regular basis. They've been allowed to stay because past administrations considered them a low priority for deportation.”

Many of Renta’s clients don’t even need to be in an immigration office to be in danger. She explained that “a lot of these raids happen in someone's home." Even worse, “ICE agents often don’t have warrants from a judge, just a piece of paper that says 'warrant.'” Now, during Know Your Rights trainings, Make the Road New York organizers make sure to explain that attendees understand that they don’t have to open the door when someone shows up claiming to be police or ICE. Organizers also provide materials showing what real warrants look like.

The End of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians

Temporary programs are also under attack. On May 22, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced a six-month extension of the Temporary Protected Status designation for 55,000 Haitian citizens living in the United States. The program grants short-term work permits and relief from deportation to immigrants from nations experiencing war, natural disasters and epidemics.

Haitians received the designation following the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed approximately 316,000 people and displaced 1.5 million. The program was first renewed to Haitians following a cholera epidemic, food shortages and extensive poverty.

That first extension was set to expire in July, with advocates lobbying for at least an additional 18 months for citizens to return to what remains the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Secretary Kelly defended the small extension in a statement: “I believe there are indications that Haiti—if its recovery from the 2010 earthquake continues at pace—may not warrant further... extension past January 2018.”

The announcement was met with fear and anger from Haitians living in America, and their advocates. “We have a lot of families that are in shock right now,” Nancy Treviño, spokeswoman for Haitian Women of Miami, told the Washington Post.

“Assessments as recent as December 2016 indicate that conditions continue to warrant a full 18-month extension. Anything less would be irresponsible and reckless,” said Tiffany Wheatland-Disu, community outreach manager at the New York Immigration Coalition, in a statement. "Our government has already failed to extend needed TPS protections to the three West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the wake of the 2015-16 Ebola epidemic. Forcing Haitians to return to a destabilized Haiti will impose a similar fate on the more than 55,000 Haitians currently protected by TPS."

The current ruling has impacts for additional countries. Next year, the Trump administration will determine whether 86,000 Hondurans will be allowed to stay beyond January, and 263,00 Salvadoreans beyond March. 

Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.

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