Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ithacan Immigrant: Angie

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This week’s Ithacan Immigrant features Angie, who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic.  After emigrating to the US, Angie lived in Long Island and then eventually moved to upstate New York.  She originally came to ISP for our family based immigration services and more recently for our citizenship services.

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

I came here for vacation but I found someone here so I stayed.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

We came to Ithaca to visit my family and we liked it so we decided to live here. 

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

It was quiet, relaxing, and I was pregnant so I was thinking about it being safe.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Philly cheese steak – I like the ones at Casa Blanca cause they’re not too greasy.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

Walmart.  It’s not too expensive and you can find everything you need.  Every time I go to buy 3 things I come out with 20.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

A lot of things are different but mainly 3 things – stability, safety, and good economics.  Ithaca and this country gives me what my own country didn’t.  

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Let’s Not Forget TPS

Image Border Editor: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/borders

Earlier this year, the Trump administration began hinting at doing away with Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for immigrants from several countries around the world.  Foreign nationals from countries that are pretty much inhabitable or unsafe due to natural disasters (such as Haiti) or civil strife (such as Sudan) have been told they should no longer consider the US a safe haven and that it is time to make plans to go back home.  According to the USCIS website,

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be up for debate what “returning safely” means.  The current administration’s hardline approach to ending programs such as DACA and the Central American Minor’s (CAM) Program where a compassionate, humanitarian mindset is necessary, makes it come to no surprise that TPS is next in line.  The 13 countries listed here currently have TPS destination.  Two of them have been on the list for over a decade.  El Salvador (16 years) and Honduras (17 years) have been deemed unsafe by previous administrations resulting in foreign nationals from both countries becoming long-time residents of the US.

Because of TPS, approximately 325,000 foreign nationals are able to reside in the US and are afforded limited but valuable perks such as work authorization and freedom from deportation.  But this past summer Homeland Security began signaling it was going to focus its efforts on prompting TPS beneficiaries to begin to self-deport when over 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients were only given the opportunity to extend their status for an additional 6 months, instead of the 18 months they had hoped for.  This  created a wave of concern about the overall fate of TPS and whether it was going to follow a path similar to the CAM and DACA programs.

The overwhelming majority of TPS recipients are nationals of El Salvador (204,000) and Honduras (61,000).  From my experience, the majority of local TPS recipients are from those two countries, as well.  Foreign nationals from both countries have had to prove they have resided continuously in the US for over 15 years to renew their status and therefore often have deep roots in the communities they have resettled in.

For example, the other day I met with a Salvadoran woman who has had TPS since 2001. For almost two decades she has worked and lived in Ithaca and she is determined to stay.  She has close ties within our community which include her place of employment, her children’s school, her church, and neighborhood.  She, like many other TPS recipients, came seeking legal counsel because she keeps hearing on Spanish-language radio stations the program is doomed.

I also have Honduran clients who have been TPS recipients since the late 1990’s.  In the past, they have been hopeful to one day get a green card but now they are are living in fear of not knowing what’s next.  For over a decade, TPS has allowed them to get work permits and find jobs where they have benefits such as health insurance and sick pay.  They are nervous and feel desperate about what the future holds for them.  They fear they might lose their jobs and eventually have two choices: repatriate or risk remaining as undocumented immigrants where they are vulnerable to deportation and will have to work without authorization.

It’s time to transition some of the long-term TPS beneficiaries and provide them with a legal immigration status.  Ideally, it’s time to pass a bill like the DREAM Act of 2017  which advocates for a legislative solution for both DACA and all TPS recipients.  Immigrants and immigration advocates need to be vocal about including TPS in their advocacy.  Add your voice by contacting Congress today; Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) has already prepared this script that you can follow on their website.  While I fully support Congress finding a solution for the Dreamers, we shouldn’t forget about the immigrants in our community with TPS.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Willing to Work

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People with Various Jobs

Towards the end of President Trump’s statement on the repeal of DACA he says that the current dysfunction of our immigration system is to blame for a victimized American workforce. He then goes on to promote the RAISE Act, which aims to curtail immigration by 50% through the revision of four admission processes: refugee admissions, the Diversity Lottery, family unification, and the permanent employment visa system.

One major factor behind this renewed push is the often repeated sentiment that many immigrants and refugees who come to the United States arrive unskilled and/or lack English abilities which in turn makes them a drain on the economy. The RAISE Act would codify this sentiment in to law by creating a points-based admissions system that places an inordinate value on current English ability and demonstrated skill. Many, including Senator Jeff Flake (AZ-R) who recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times, hope that Congress will figure out a way to take in to account the difficult-to-quantify factor of an individual’s work ethic. I would like to add my voice and personal experience to this chorus.

Through my work, I have met Ithacan immigrants and refugees with a variety of work histories: midwives, laborers, school teachers, and doctors. Rarely have these clients been able resume their former profession upon their arrival in the US. They have had to enter in to low skill positions and careers that require little training and are often repetitive (dishwashing, uniform folding, and cleaning are common occupations). These jobs can wear an individual down, causing them to lose faith in their mission and vision. But the clients I interact with regularly defy this possibility. They have built their resumes, not through formal training or re-certification (which can be costly in a number of ways), but by showing up, working hard, and staying positive. This dedication has proven results. Catholic Family Center, a sister organization in Rochester, boasts  75% retention rate after 90 days in their Refugee Employment Services, a figure that is reflected nationally (pg. 5).

One of my clients was an electrician in his home country. Due to lack of English and the myriad of difficulties associated with re-certifying here, he is postponing his reentry in to his former field to focus on the basics of building a life for him and his family in the US. This is centered around building a US work history and learning English. He has taken all of this in stride while simultaneously ensuring that his family’s needs are met. Employment and ESL commitments mean he will soon be spending 12-hour days away from home. He is also considering weekend work.

Another client of mine was a respected teacher in his country of origin. He taught math, coached soccer, and mentored students. When he came to the US he started out washing dishes and is now a dish room manager. He misses teaching and hopes to return to the profession one day, even if it means a temporary pay cut.

A third client of mine studied tourism administration outside of the US and hopes to bring her expertise to bear in Ithaca’s robust tourism industry but has so far been unable to do so. To remedy this, she travels from Dryden to Ithaca every weekday to practice English and will soon work a third-shift cashier job to support herself.

These stories are a small insight in to the determination and value that immigrants and refugees bring to our country. I agree that our immigration system needs fixing but it is important that when doing so we make sure not to discount someone for their perceived lack of abilities. The American dream is built around an individual’s reliability, versatility, and work ethic – not their ability to speak English or obtain an employment contract with a US company. Let’s keep that dream alive.

Soren Klaverkamp

Ithacan Immigrant: Paul

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We interviewed Paul for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant who emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the US with his family when he was a teenager.  He went back to the Islands to live and study but eventually made the US his home.  Paul moved to Ithaca to obtain a degree in ag science and horticulture at Cornell.  A couple of years ago, he came to ISP to get assistance with becoming a US citizen and recently returned to inquire about our family based immigration services. 

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ISP: Why did you come to US?

I first came with my parents but didn’t stay.  I went home and studied my secondary education. 

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

I left Miami and came to NY and then decided to come back to school; it was something I wanted to do for the longest but in the Islands you don’t go to school after you are 25.  But I always knew I should I should go back to school.  I was at Queens Opportunity Center and when my daughter studied for her ACTs, I decided it would be a good thing for us to go back together. We both went to Morrisville and then after I finished, I transferred to Cornell. I fell in love with Ithaca and decided to stick around.

ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

I liked it because in the Islands we grew up in the country – there were lots of trees and it kind of reminded me of that.  I was scared though to come to school as a non-traditional student.  But it worked out find. 

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Oh gosh, the only place I eat is Macro Mama’s at the Farmers Market and Taste of Thai.  Otherwise I cook Island foods like beans and rice. 

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

I shop at Green Star or Wegmans – I like the organic, whole foods kind of thing.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

I find lots of similarities but I I have to think about the differences.  I guess the biggest would be the beaches and the weather.  There’s only cold weather here in the winter but in my country the temperature is always warm; it’s usually 95 – 100 degrees.  Back home we have the wet season or the dry season.

The Ending of DACA: Lawsuits and Legislative Fantasies

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There has been a lot of response to the Trump administration ending DACA this past Tuesday including a lawsuit I saw on my Twitter feed last night from the National Immigration Law Center.   What caught my eye was what NILC wrote to introduce the lawsuit:

They’re ending #DACA?  Then we’re suing.

While legal advocates, the faith community, immigration advocates, and the Dreamers themselves look for ways to challenge the ending of DACA, it’s more important than ever to pressure Congress to pass a bill before approximately 785,000 Dreamers lose their benefits.  According to this NPR article, Congress already has several bills pending –  the DREAM Act, Recognizing America’s Children (ACT), the American Hope Act, and the Bridge Act.   However, it would almost take a legislative fantasy for one of them to get enacted before the 6 month deadline President Trump has imposed.

In order to make this legislative fantasy become a legislative solution, I would encourage people to carefully read NPR’s rundown on the 4 bills and then throw their support behind one or all of them.  Each bill has its pluses and minuses but I have been seeing mounting support from advocacy groups, such as the NYIC, who are backing the Bridge Act, and am also seeing growing bipartisan support for the DREAM Act 2017.  I would also encourage advocates to become better versed on what yesterday’s announcement on the rescinding of DACA means.  The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has put out this Community Advisory  and the immigration practice group at Ithaca’s local law firm, Miller Mayer, put together this article.

It’s time for action.  If you are in Tompkins County or the surrounding area, make a call to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, (202) 224-4451, Senator Charles Schumer, (202) 224-6542, and Representative Tom Reed, (202) 225-3161 and throw your support behind one of the bills going through Congress.  Implore them to work across the aisle.  Also, inform them if you are a registered voter and live in their district.    If you live in a different district, you can reach your Congressional Representatives and Senators by calling the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.  Six months isn’t a long time so pressure needs to come quickly if we want Congress to act in a non-partisan way and come up with a legislative solution together.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

 

 

 

Family-based Immigration

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One of the most satisfying parts of providing legal immigration services is seeing immigrant clients (like the ones pictured above) reunify with their family members because of the family-based immigration services we provide at Catholic Charities. Recent arrivals to Ithaca include parents, minor children, adult children, siblings, and spouses who have successfully emigrated from various countries from all corners of the world.  In some instances, the family-based petitions took 5-10 years to process.

Family reunification has held a revered spot in our immigration policy since the Immigration & Naturalization Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Johnson.  The 1965 Act ended an immigration-admissions policy based on race and ethnicity and replaced it with a system that would focus on both keeping immigrant families intact and attracting skilled labor to the US.   Since then, about two-thirds of immigrant visas have been family-based.  Unfortunately, the White House recently threw its support behind the RAISE Act which seems to give an unfair advantage to highly skilled immigrant workers and an unfair advantage to immigrants who hope to emigrate to the US to reunify with family members.

Everyone pretty much agrees that our immigration system is broken and needs to be modernized but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of reunifying immigrant families. For several years, economist/professor/author Harriet Duleep has been making compelling arguments in research and press articles, as well as in front of Congress that skilled immigrants have families too.  She contends family visas complement high-skilled visas – the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.  Duleep also reasonably questions that when someone like an emigrating scientist is considering which country to move to, wouldn’t there be a preference to relocate to where family members, including siblings, parents, and adult children can also live, over a country where only certain family members are welcome?

Research shows that there are definite advantages when an immigrant family is allowed to reunify.  The newcomers can pool their resources with family members who emigrated before them so things like childcare and elderly care become less of a burden on the wage earners.  Families who are reunified can also support each other financially by increasing access to credit or referring a relative to a current employer for a job. These are tangible benefits that can lead the family toward upward mobility and integration.

The emotional well-being of immigrant families who are reunited after years of separation is another advantage that is often overlooked.  In my own work, I have seen the emotional supports that attribute to the well-being of family members who emigrated to the US first when family members arrive.  I have clients whose siblings have finally made it to the US after 10-15 years of separation relieving the stress and guilt of those who emigrated first.  Many arrived into the country as refugees and waited years to be reunited with family members who stayed behind in countries that remained war-torn, had no health care systems, or had to deal daily with food insecurity. This definitely took a huge toll on their emotional well-being.  Under the RAISE Act, siblings would no longer be afforded the opportunity to emigrate to the US.

Immigrant parents sometimes petition for their children one by one because the family doesn’t have the resources it needs to bring more than one child at a time. Sometimes the minor children left behind turn into young adults by the time the parents save the money needed to file a relative petition with USCIS.  Under the RAISE Act, adult children are another group who wouldn’t be able to come to the US even though as young adults their kinship ties are as strong as they were when they were still minors.

Although this proposed piece of legislation isn’t expected to garner the Congressional support it will need to be enacted into law, it does seem inevitable that there will continue to be a lot of advocating for some type of reform that will result in deep cuts made to the number of immigrants who receive family-based visas.  Hopefully the debate will shift and voices like Duleep’s, that are knowledgeable about the advantages of keeping immigrant families intact, will be taken into consideration. She and others have even called for raising the quotas for employment or skill based visas. With any luck, this thinking will prevail when the current immigration system gets overhauled instead of modernizing it at the expense of immigrants looking to reunify with their family members.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

 

 

Ithacan Immigrant: Leelia

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We interviewed Leelia for this week’s Ithacan Immigrant, who emigrated from Liberia to the US at the age of 16.  In 2012, Leelia and other family members came to ISP to get assistance in applying to become US citizens; all of them were successful in pursuing naturalization.  Five years later, Leelia has returned to Catholic Charities for legal immigration services so she can petition to bring her mother to come to the US as a permanent resident.

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ISP: Why did you come to the US?

My dad came to the US as a student at Cornell and became employed by them.  He then sent for me and my brothers to join him.

ISP: Why did you decide to live in Ithaca?

Because my Dad was already here.

 ISP: What was your first impression of Ithaca?

We came in the fall so I thought it was pretty.  But it was cold; I wasn’t expecting that so it was kind of a shock.  My first few months here were fine.  When I started school though I changed my mind because the kids were very mean.  Kids are so mean to immigrants, especially when you can’t speak English.  I felt like a newborn baby learning how to crawl and walk all over because I had to learn how to read and write.  Liberian English and American English are so different.

ISP: What is your favorite American food?

Pepperoni pizza.

ISP: Where is your favorite place to shop in Ithaca?

TJ Maxx – they have good deals.

ISP: What is the biggest difference between Ithaca and your home town?

Monrovia is crowded, everyone is on the street, it’s loud, people are selling food, clothes, everything.  Here it is quiet.  No one is on the street being loud and selling whatever they want.  There’s not a lot of cars or traffic in Monrovia but here there’s a lot of traffic.

Getting Around Ithaca

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Last month, Nga was referred to ISP for services since she had recently emigrated  from Vietnam to the US and needed assistance in getting enrolled in ESL classes, applying for health insurance and obtaining a social security number.  Nga’s husband, a former Vietnamese refugee who resettled in the US in the mid 1980’s, accompanied her to the appointment.

During our first meeting, the couple asked if we could help them get bicycles; the day was hot and after walking across town, they felt wiped out.  Nga’s husband explained how “it’s hard for us to get around Ithaca so we want to ride bikes.” He continued, “everyone in Vietnam rides bikes – that’s what we’re used to.  No one can afford to buy a car, we all ride bikes.”  It’s true, motorbikes are so popular in Vietnam, that the city of Hanoi actually hopes to ban them by 2030.  The couple didn’t want motorbikes though, they were looking to pedal.

In order to see if we could find them some bikes, we reached out to Emily, a volunteer with Ithaca Welcomes Refugees who is great at helping us out with our random requests. Emily then reached out to the folks at RIBs – Recycle Ithaca’s Bicycles – a program run by Southside Community Center that refurbishes and redistributes bikes in Ithaca.  As a result, Nga and her husband received the bikes and helmets pictured above, free of charge.  Now the couple can be seen biking on one of Ithaca’s designated bicycle boulevards as they run errands around town.  On behalf of Nga and her husband, we wanted to extend a heartfelt thanks to both Emily from IWR and the folks at RIBs.

Disrupting and Dismantling Immigrant Families

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The Trump administration has found yet another way to torment immigrant families who are undocumented. A new surge initiative is being carried out by ICE and is supposed to result in “disrupting and dismantling” smuggling and human trafficking rings.  On the surface this sounds like something immigration advocates would welcome and embrace.  But with closer scrutiny, it becomes clear this new initiative is also geared to disrupt and dismantle immigrant families as ICE agents have been given a new priority – to arrest and detain immigrant parents who pay for their children to be brought across the US border. Instead of only targeting the profiteers – the smuggling operations, coyotes, and human trafficking rings –  ICE has orders to also go after the parents.

The young children and adolescents crossing the border are considered to be unaccompanied minors once they are detained by Customs & Border Patrol.  Most of them are fleeing Central America; they are leaving countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala where they are vulnerable to gang violence and high rates of homicide. Admittedly, most often they are likely brought into the US by someone paid off by their parents – after all, it’s not like there are a whole lot of other options. Despite this, the Obama administration did the humane thing and allowed these families to reunite by releasing the children into the custody of their parents while asylum or deportation cases played out in immigration court. After all, unaccompanied minors are often traumatized and housing them with a caring parent seems like the most sensible thing to do.

However, last February a memorandum was released by DHS Secretary Kelly indicating Obama’s humane policy was about to end.  This memo, being issued to implement two of President Trump’s executive orders, included directives that raised red flags among immigration advocacy groups.  It laid out how new policies would be implemented that would target for deportation anyone who directly or indirectly facilitated the illegal smuggling or trafficking of an alien child into the United States. Through this memo, a warning shot was fired by the new administration that disrupting and dismantling human trafficking rings wasn’t their only priority; parents who were reunified with their unaccompanied minor children as a result of the previous administration’s policies were also in the crosshairs.

Having unaccompanied minors and their parents being targeted in the above mentioned memo was so troubling that attorneys from Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) prepared a practice advisory  in order to assist legal practitioners who  represent child clients in removal proceedings and to help them advise family members of such children.  It cannot be understated how important it is for legal advocacy groups to quickly respond with effective strategies when these types of laws are put into place. While I do not represent unaccompanied minors or have any of their parents as clients, I have many colleagues who do and am fully aware of what they are experiencing as the Trump administration targets yet another cohort of immigrants they view as a priority to put into deportation proceedings.

To date, there are reports of ICE agents visiting the homes of unaccompanied minors after they are released to start deportation proceedings against their parents.  There are other reports of parents being arrested and detained by ICE as they accompany their children to scheduled ICE appointments.  As I write this, Secretary Kelly has been reassigned and no longer heads the Department of Homeland Security.  It is unknown who his predecessor will be but I long for the days when DHS was led by someone like former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson who held the position under President Obama.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep

Travel Ban Back in Effect – With Rules As Stable As Quicksand

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Here’s where we stand for now with the travel ban:

Nationals from six majority Muslim countries are barred for 90 days.  Those countries include Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Libya.

Refugees from anywhere are barred from entering the US for 120 days, and absent special circumstances, the total number of refugees is capped at 50,000. That number is half of what it was last year, and has already been reached.

There is one exception, however: the ban does not apply to someone who has a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the United States.  Standard immigration rules and procedures apply in that situation.

Things did not always look this way.  The underlying Executive Order issued on January 25 has gone through two White House revisions, multiple agency interpretations, and a constant volley of legal challenges played out in courts across the country.  And we’re still not done.  The Supreme Court addressed the ban twice already, but won’t decide whether it is constitutional until next term.

This uncertainty is holding an untold number of people hostage to the possibility they’ll forever be separated from their families in the US, or denied the new life they were promised, far from the deprivations of a refugee camp or the ravages of a war zone.

Seven months have passed since the original Executive Order went into effect, and a final ruling on its constitutionality might come as late as next May.  In the meantime, background checks will expire. Travel windows will close.  Indeed, many already have.  In the end, many people will have their right to enter the US affirmed, but will have lost the opportunity to do so.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how we got from A to B.

The original Executive Order temporarily barred entry for all refugees, and nationals of seven Muslim countries – the six countries mentioned above, plus Iraq.  It banned refugees from Syria indefinitely.  The ban applied equally to US Permanent Residents, visa holders, and visa applicants. “Religious minorities” were exempt though, which in practice meant that Christians could come in, but Muslims could not.  The ban went into effect immediately, without customary advance notice to consulates abroad or customs and immigration officials at US ports of entry.  Upon receiving word for the Order, the State Department immediately cancelled tens of thousands of visas.

Overnight, US airports became a holding ground for foreign travelers who learned upon landing that the law had changed mid-flight.  Among them were Iraq and Afghan nationals admitted under a special visa program aiding people who worked for the US military during the wars in their home country.  A grandmother from Iran was detained at LAX, even though she held a travel visa to visit her children, who happen to be US citizens.  Two brothers, US permanent residents originally from Yemen, hoped to reunite with their father, a US citizen living in Michigan.  Instead, they were handcuffed at Dulles, and forced to surrender their immigration documents before being put on a plane to Ethiopia.

Lawyers were initially prevented from even speaking to people who needed their help, but eventually secured relief in some of these cases.  The fate of other travelers who were turned back remains unknown.

Those first days were marked by chaos and uncertainty, because who stayed and who went back turned for the most part on where and when the plane landed. Emergency orders in Massachusetts and New York stayed parts of the Executive Order, but only in their respective jurisdictions.  Plus, each case produced different outcomes, depending on exactly what happened and who was involved.  Courts would eventually have to address whether the Constitution’s executive authority allowed the President to target Muslims at the border, but the question until then was simply whether people being detained or turned back experienced an “immediate and irreparable harm.”

On February 3, a judge in Seattle, Washington halted the entire Executive Order nationwide.  US gateways resumed normal operations, and Consulates abroad continued processing visa applications from affected countries.  Refugee agencies authorized by the Department of State to resettle new arrivals reaffirmed their readiness and commitment.  It was an unquestionable victory, yet anyone hoping to enter the US was advised to board a plane and get through the gate fast.  The ruling re-set the status quo, but everyone feared it would be reversed on appeal.

Ultimately, though, that decision was upheld, and nationwide, the number of strikes against the Executive Order piled up.  As doubts about the constitutionality of the ban came into focus, the Trump Administration announced that it would work on a revision instead of appeal to the Supreme Court.  This meant more uncertainty for travelers and family members while they waited for fate to unfold.

The second Executive Order did provide some relief.  Iraq was removed from the list of targeted countries, as were restrictions on Permanent Residents and current visa holders.  But the Administration insisted on barring nationals from the remaining six Muslim countries, despite thin objective support for the “national security” rationale it offered.

Moreover, Syrian refugees wound not be singled out permanently, but would now face the same 120 day ban as refugees from other countries.  But that didn’t answer the question of why refugees were even targeted in the name of national security when they are the most vetted category of travelers in the world.  Finally, the exception for “minority religions” that favored Christians was removed, but that just broadened the scope of an already overly-expansive ban, and looked like a pre-text for answering claims that anti-Muslim bias poisoned the over-arching scheme.

The modified Executive Order was blocked before it even went into effect, but the Supreme Court revived it three months later subject to the “bona fide” US relationship exception the Court itself invented.  A later decision clarified that extended family members (such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) were exempt, contrary to the Administration’s narrower take, but declined to clarify where Resettlement Agencies fit.  Whether their work on behalf of refugees is enough to establish a “bona fide relationship” is now before a lower court.  In the meantime, however, the answer is no.

This legal back and forth is emotionally devastating to people trying to figure out if they are affected by the ban or not.  One day they’re admissible, the next day they are not.

It’s also difficult for community organizations and lawyers to advocate on their behalf when the rules are constantly changing, or written in a way that is nearly impossible to understand.

Take refugees, for example.  We know from the latest round of judicial decisions that a formal assurance of assistance from an authorized Resettlement Agency does not exempt refugees from the travel ban.  Prior to that, however, here’s how the State Department explained the “bona fide relationship” exception:

A refugee who has a relationship with an entity in the United States that is formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course will be considered to have a credible claim to a bona fide relationship with that entity upon presentation of sufficient documentation or other verifiable information supporting that claim.  The fact that a resettlement agency in the United States has provided a formal assurance for a refugee seeking admission, however, it not sufficient in and of itself to establish a qualifying relationship for that refugee with an entity in the United States.

By way of background, I am a lawyer, with decades of experience making sense of arcane legal jargon.  I know what certain words and expressions mean in context, and can figure out the law’s reach based on how it evolves over time.  But I was stumped.

What’s the difference, I thought, between a relationship that is “‘formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course,” and one based on a “‘formal assurance?”  Refugees signed plenty of paperwork, so maybe that’s what exempted them from the ban – something they signed for the Resettlement Agency.

But the forms are typically signed well after a refugee enters the US and settles into a new home – sometimes days later, during a process called “orientation.”  But to sidestep the ban, the “bona fide relationship” had to be established before arriving, so straining to figure out exactly when the paperwork was signed after arriving didn’t make sense.  Nothing is signed between the refugee and Resettlement agency before the plane lands.

On the other hand, maybe the regulations meant to distinguish, not the nature of a Resettlement Agency’s relationship to a refugee, but whether some other entity besides the Resettlement Agency was involved – an entity that offered more than “formal assurances,” when the refugee was still being processed abroad.  None of this was clear from a plain reading of the guidance, and if I couldn’t make sense of it as an American lawyer, how could a refugee from another country understand.

As of today, we know that a refugee will not be granted admission to the US based on the assurance of an authorized Refugee Resettlement agency.  But the State Department faces continuing pressure to revise its guidelines, and more litigation is expected until they do.  Nothing is certain until the Supreme Court decides the case next term.  It’s all as stable as quicksand.

-Kathy  Bergin