Current round of anti-immigrant laws leave country in state of flux

Photo by Larisa Karr.

Recent legislation in the United States has centered heavily on who is allowed into the country. On Dec. 4, the Supreme Court allowed the third version of Trump’s Travel Ban to take effect, banning individuals from eight countries, the majority of which are Muslim. 
There are currently a series of other cases relating to immigration and refugees that are ongoing.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Request lawsuit demanding to see government documents pertaining to the initial version of the Muslim Ban.
Irina Como, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said the litigation is still ongoing.
“When the Muslim ban first went into effect, there was a lot of confusion about how these government agencies were supposed to interpret it and who they were supposed to let in and there were a lot of decisions being made on an ad hoc basis,” Como said. “They were just kind of making it up as they went along.”
The International Refugee Assistance Project brought a lawsuit against Donald Trump for enacting the third version of the Travel Ban, with oral arguments for the case heard on Dec. 8.
Henrike Dessaules works with IRAP, an organization that helped organize demonstrations at airports throughout the country when the first version of the Travel Ban was enacted.
“We pretty much immediately, following the original executive order, got involved in litigation against it,” Dessaules said. “There was the first Travel Ban, which was immediately blocked and rescinded eventually and replaced by the second Travel Ban and we amended our lawsuit at the time to include the newer version of that ban. So that lawsuit has gone through various stages.”
IRAP, Dessaules said, employs the work of law students, pro bono lawyers and attorneys to help evaluate refugee cases.
“Traditionally, our work is taking on refugee clients who could potentially be eligible to be resettled to the U.S. or other countries and if we decide to take on that case, we submit those cases to a law student at various law schools across the country, who are then supervised by pro bono attorneys working at various law firms,” Dessaules said. “So through this model, we are able to take on many more cases than we as a team could.”  
Trump recently withdrew the U.S. from the U.N. Migrant and Refugee Compact, which seeks global cooperation to protect the safety of refugees and migrants.
Guy Goodwin-Gill, an emeritus professor of international refugee law at Oxford University, said the U.N. Migrant and Refugee Compact is an interesting initiative.
“Ever since the League of Nations in the 1920s, when states first began to cooperate on some of these issues, there’s been a continual reluctance to admit that refugees will always be with us,” Goodwin-Gill said. “There’s been a reluctance to think long-term and to put in place permanent structures for dealing with displacement.”
John Vinson, president of the American Immigration Control Foundation, is favorable of Trump’s actions and said he does not believe the refugees coming into the United States today fit the true definition of refugee.  
“A lot of the people designated ‘refugees’ these days don’t really meet the historic criteria for calling a person that,” Vinson said. “In the past, a refugee was one who faced direct personal persecution. Today, we’re letting in a lot of people who maybe are members who might be discriminated against but are not necessarily individuals who have suffered any problems.”
For Dessaules, the enactment of legislation like the Muslim Ban and the Travel Ban may be stemmed in diplomatic reasons.
“Refugee resettlement is and definitely has been being used as a foreign policy tool. Refugees are being politicized more than ever,” Dessaules said. “Refugee resettlement was not a partisan issue. There were people from both sides of the aisle that were completely in favor of resettling people who were persecuted.”
One of the misconceptions governments present to their countries’ populations is that they are not in control of what they often claim is a refugee or migrant “crisis.”
“What people need in every country is to understand that things are under control and I think governments very often have failed to give that message even though they are very much in control,” Goodwin-Gill said. “Of course, there will be apparent exceptions, like the flood of people into Europe in 2015 and 2016. But that actually itself was a foreseeable consequence.”
Goodwin-Gill said it was a known fact that there were over 2.6 million refugees in Turkey and Lebanon and as a result of the influx of refugees into the European continent, governments convened and began investing in the countries of first asylum.
“The governments have not sent the right message to the people and you always get this,” Goodwin-Gill said. “Governments have not always been ready to counteract that tendency and indeed some politicians as we know are only too ready to capitalize on it as well.”    
Dessaules said IRAP is undertaking initiatives to ensure that refugees trying to come to the U.S. have access to adequate legal information.
“We are working on continuously updating Know Your Rights materials for people that are trying to get to the United States, travelers, visa holders, et cetera, because with all the courts and court rulings and all the litigation, the legal and state landscapes are constantly changing for people,” Dessaules said. “We’re trying to make sure that we keep our clients and also the groups we work with, like immigrant communities, informed of what the current legal landscape is and how they can respond to ongoing litigation.”
Dessaules said that IRAP will try to sue whenever laws like the Travel and Muslim Bans are enacted.
For Goodwin-Gill, Trump’s anti-immigrant proclamations are fruitless in actually dealing with the complexities of the issue.
“It doesn’t lay the groundwork for a better system one way or the other,” Goodwin-Gill said. “It just ends up being empty rhetoric and unfortunately, it makes a lot of noise.”  

The original version of this article was published in The Blue Banner.