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In Trump’s immigration order, a tangle of legal issues

January 29, 2017 at 4:03 PM EDT
Protests erupted across the country following President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven countries. The administration cited national security concerns as the reason for the order, even as a federal judge blocked part of it on Saturday night. USA Today Immigration Reporter Alan Gomez joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the legal and immigration issues related to President Trump’s executive order, I am joined from Miami by “USA Today” reporter, Alan Gomez.

Alan, how do we get to these last 24 hours, what seems confusing and chaotic, and how this policy has been implemented?

ALAN GOMEZ, USA TODAY: I think one of the biggest problems is that President Trump signed the order, but there appears to be very little guidance when it comes to how it’s being implemented on the ground. So, we’re hearing different reports how Customs and Border Protection is treating people coming too the country at let’s say Boston and Washington Dulles than they are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

So, right now, we’re hearing that there are still people detained in Los Angeles and San Francisco. On the East Coast, a lot of those cases have largely been resolved because of a couple of court orders, but yes, it’s making for a difficult situation as lawyers are trying to just get access to a lot of these people who are being detained and facing these very conflicting orders from Customs and Border Protection.

SREENIVASAN: And so, why is there confusion when it comes to Customs and Border Protection, and TSA and the airlines? I mean, you know, usually in the past, it has been sort of a six month warning sign. You’re going to have to start using your passports to go to Canada and back, or whatever? This came much quicker.

GOMEZ: Well, I think it’s because of the way that the order was signed and then just immediately implemented. There was very, very little time for Customs and Border Protection to respond to this. They say that as soon as the order was signed, they immediately issued new guidance to their port officers, the people that you interview with when you come into the country, and updated their computer system so that they would specifically target people from these seven countries that were listed in the ban.

But as you could imagine, when that goes out that quickly to that many officers without any sort of training or without any sort of more systemic changes to the system, it creates a lot of confusion.

SREENIVASAN: What about the notion of the religious test that seems to be baked into this action?

GOMEZ: Well, that’s one of the hardest things about this and it’s going to be one of the most litigated in the weeks to come. Understand that the court orders that we’ve been seeing in the last couple of days are focused primarily on these immigrants who had already arrived in the U.S. or were in transit, were on the way over here already.

But we haven’t even started getting into the legal debate over the overall legality of President Trump’s order. And that’s when we’re going to start seeing whether — whether courts decide that this was the, quote/unquote, “Muslim ban” that he talked about on the campaign trail or if this was really a national security order that he issued. There is, you know, when you look through the order, most of it is tied to national security. It opens up, talking about the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The president goes on to explain in great detail why this is being done on national security grounds.

But because of his past statements about the Muslim ban, and because of at least one provision in the order that seems to indicate that we are going to give prioritization to people who are religiously persecuted in some of these countries, it could open up the entire order to legal questions about whether this is really a religious ban or if this is based solely on national security grounds.

SREENIVASAN: So, who does the administration planned on getting some clarity here? I mean, this morning, we heard Reince Priebus say that green card holder should not be affected by this, but yet at the same time, we have people in couple of airports around the country that have green cards that were detained.

GOMEZ: Yes, I can tell you that as of, I think it was Saturday at this point, DHS saying that green card holders would be affected by it. Obviously now, we’re getting a little bit more clarity that they will be allowed into the country. Some of them are going through — what they’re going through right now is it’s called the “case by case review” of their immigration visa. So, they get here and they face additional screening once they get into the U.S., to make sure that they run through another background check. They go through another in-person interview.

But we have a judge in Boston who ordered CBP to stop doing that, saying that these people have already been vetted, they’ve already gone through that entire process. So, subjecting them to any further review at this point is illegal and has ordered CBP at least in Massachusetts to stop doing that. There’s a federal ruling by a New York judge that prevents only deportations, stops Customs and Border Protection from getting them out of the country, but it looks like at least in 49 other states, they can still go through that addition screening for these green card holders.

SREENIVASAN: Now, one thing I want to ask, what does this do to the time line of anybody that’s in line for a visa interview or an ability to enter the U.S.?

GOMEZ: If you are from those seven countries or you’re trying to apply through the refugee program, I think right now, you’re just on indefinite hold. Again, these rulings that we’ve seen over the weekend only deal with the people who are already here and were already on the way. But people who are applying for visas from any of those seven countries or who are trying to attain refugee status, right now, that entire program is effectively shut down. They cannot apply. They cannot go through the interview process.

So, we are hearing stories from around the world right now of people who had their interviewed scheduled and now they are told hey, that’s on hold right now. So, a lot — there’s just confusion around the world right now over this as they try to sort out what it really means.

SREENIVASAN: On any other normal week, the immigration story that you are writing about on Wednesday would be big news, about sanctuary cities. What’s an update on that?

GOMEZ: Well, that’s the difficulty of dealing with so many executive orders coming out in such a short amount of time. The president laid out a couple of orders in the middle of the week that dealt with building the border wall, increasing deportations in the interior in the country and punishing sanctuary cities.

There hasn’t been a lot of movement on that in the last couple of days only because I think every immigration attorney in America has been at airports around the country, trying to get these people who have been detained out of custody and trying to challenge the legality of that program, because that’s more of an immediate issue. They need to get these people out of the airports and they need to try to stop that program overall.

And I can tell you, there’s a lot of tired attorneys out there who are planning to or have legal papers already drawn up to challenge President Trump’s other orders about sanctuary cities, about deportations. They just haven’t had the time to do so.

SREENIVASAN: We’re also seeing some universities take state — make statements out there and say that we want to protect our foreign students that are here, perhaps in these seven countries — you saw some movement from the University of Indiana, University of Michigan. What’s likely to happen there?

GOMEZ: That’s really interesting part of all these. So, we’ve talked a lot about sanctuary cities over the past week. These are the cities that have some kind of policy that forbids their police officers from working with federal immigration officers. They may be punished. They might have federal funds with help from them, if President Trump follows through on his promises in that area. But, right, we’ve also seen sanctuary campus movement starting as well.

And so, we’ve counted several dozen universities around the country who say that they will prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from stepping foot on their campuses, unless they have a court order, unless they have a warrant. They say they will not participate in any way with any kind of federal investigation into the immigration status of any of their students, whether they’re legal or undocumented, whether they’re recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by President Obama or not. So, they’re trying to take a very hard stand against this.

But at the same time, if a federal immigration agent has a warrant or a court order to come after somebody, I don’t think there’s very much that these universities can do to prevent them from actually stepping foot on their campus and coming and picking up that immigrant.

SREENIVASAN: And many of them are also recipients of large federal grants as well. They could be on the hook on for this.

Alan Gomez, reporter for “USA Today”, joining us from Miami today — thanks so much.

GOMEZ: Thank you.

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