As the nation witnessed chaotic scenes of immigrants detained at major American airports at the end of January, Indiana immigration lawyers said President Donald Trump’s executive orders tightening immigration enforcement and banning immigrants from seven nations are dividing families and sowing fear with their clients.
“It’s kind of chaotic at this point,” said Indianapolis immigration attorney Christian Mendoza. “My phone’s ringing off the hook, but I’m trying to keep my clients at ease.”
Immigration attorneys at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic arrived morning of Jan. 30 to find 27 voicemails left over the weekend from immigrants worried about their futures.
Clients and potential clients from Mexico and South and Central America were most concerned about being rounded up by law enforcement and deported. Refugees from unstable countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East were anxious about being able to return to the U.S. if they travel overseas and about family members still in Syrian refugee camps.
With the situation so fluid, the clinic is pulling together fact sheets to give at attorneys working at the organization’s intake sites as well as to post on the website and on social media. However, the information will likely be full of caveats and wait-and-sees because questions remain about what the Trump administration intends to do.
“Here’s the hard part, things we didn’t think would be plausible are now reality,” said Christopher Purnell, executive director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.
Uncertainty and fear
“The biggest spike has been just in the uncertainty created,” said John Broyles, a partner at Broyles Kight & Ricafort P.C. Clients, he said, particularly those from the seven nations identified in Trump’s ban — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — could be deported simply for trying to comply with immigration law. “There are some concerning and dangerous things that are worrisome to a lot of clients,” he said.
Broyles and Mendoza both have clients from the seven nations included in Trump’s ban. Trump signed an order Jan. 27 suspending immigration from those majority Muslim nations for 90 days. Officials later clarified that people from those nations who hold permanent residency “green cards” will not be barred from re-entering. Trump also ordered a four-month suspension of the country’s refugee program.
A federal judge also temporarily stayed Trump’s travel ban, but Merrillville immigration attorney Sophia Arshad said there’s evidence that some international airports around the country are continuing to enforce the order instead of the stay issued by the federal court.
In the days since Trump’s order was announced, the events that followed were “emotionally harrowing,” said Arshad of Arshad Pangere & Warring LLP. “We’re dealing with clients who are scared, a few clients whose family members are in limbo.” As an example, she said she has clients from the seven nations who previously were cleared to enter the country, but who now aren’t able to board an airplane for the U.S. due to the executive order.
By the morning of Jan. 30, Arshad said she was compiling a list of clients she’ll advise not to leave the country. She’s been practicing 13 years and with a list of about 300 immigration clients, she estimated she would be so advising about one-quarter of them. She plans to inform them that if they travel, they run the risk of being detained or not allowed to re-enter the country.
Arshad said there’s also concern that more nations will be added to the list.
Mendoza and Arshad shared a similar concern that immigrants in some cases are being detained at airports for long periods of time and then asked to sign an I-407 form. This document voluntarily relinquishes the person’s lawful permanent residence status. In addition, attorneys are concerned people detained at airports are being denied access to lawyers regardless of their immigration status.
“We’re worried,” Mendoza said, “this is going to become the norm now.”
Mendoza said immigration officers at airports commonly ask people to yield their cellphones, and he’s aware of cases where people have been denied entry after officers reviewed an immigrant’s communication with their lawyer.
Broyles said he has a client from Yemen who has lived in this country for 10 years and is now a naturalized citizen, but who now fears for the future of his wife and three children, each of whom have derived citizenship. “He’s wondering whether it’s going to affect his kids’ ability to come here.”
Mendoza said he has immigrant clients from some of the seven nations who have built businesses or are studying medicine, for instance, and are also left to wonder what their futures hold.
“We have to protect people’s rights and people’s families, and I understand the concerns of security,” Mendoza said. “But they’re so outweighed by the positive factors” of immigrants’ contributions.
Broyles said he’s concerned about the possible additional vetting procedures the Trump administration seeks for immigrants from the seven countries, including the war refugees from Syria. He noted many have been waiting for several years, and it’s hard to imagine a more stringent review process. “It’s extremely dubious to argue it’s not a religious ban and a religious test he’s imposing,” Broyles said of Trump. “He campaigned on it. He said that was what he was going to do.
“I think this is going to make us far less secure,” he continued. “You just gave the ISIS propaganda machine headline number one.”
Lisa Koop, managing attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center and an adjunct professor at the Notre Dame Law School, said NIJC was on the ground at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport over the weekend with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups trying to coordinate litigation in the Midwest.
Notre Dame law students participating in the NIJC externship this semester have been assigned to work on asylum cases from Mexico and Central America, so they’re not directly involved in NIJC’s work on the seven-nation executive order, Koop said. However, Trump’s recent actions on border enforcement “have the potential to very squarely impact their clients.”
One of the questions Koop posed to the externs at the start of their program was, “How is the legal landscape changing?” She said students usually answer that question with a reference to a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision, but this semester they are experiencing a much more “seismic shift” in America’s immigration system. “There’s not much that will be able to shock them,” she said.
NIJC is urging its clients who aren’t from the designated countries to “proceed with caution,” Koop said. The organization is getting calls from clients from the designated countries, other Muslim-majority countries and those who are of the Muslim faith in general expressing concern and fear about what might happen to them. Additionally, NIJC is monitoring its pending domestic cases to watch for unexpected delays or withheld benefits as a result of the executive order.
But Broyles said people from countries that aren’t Muslim-majority are also concerned by Trump immigration orders targeting sanctuary cities and an order that would increase domestic enforcement and expand expedited removal. Broyles said implementing such moves would be unprecedented.
Immigrants are concerned about enforcement that could target them regardless of their status, and lawyers said their best advice is to avoid traveling outside the country and talk to their immigration lawyers to make sure they’re as documented and legal as possible.
“For us, it makes it so much harder,” Mendoza said of the president’s orders, court stays and overall uncertainty. “These are difficult times.”
More questions than answers
Purnell hopes the information being complied by the clinic will also help prevent immigrants from falling victim to scams arising from the executive orders. Immigrants, already anxious, could be vulnerable to schemes offering assistance or some type of special status in exchange for money.
Also, the clinic is considering reaching out to refugee clients, especially those from the seven banned countries. Purnell described that as a huge undertaking since the organization has been providing legal assistance to refugees for more than 10 years.
Indiana Legal Services is also compiling a “frequently-asked-questions” information sheet about the Jan. 27 executive order. The questions and answers are expected to be posted Monday afternoon on the agency’s website.
In a statement, Adam Mueller, ILS director of litigation, said, “We realize this is a time of significant uncertainty. However, our Immigrant and Language Rights Center is available to provide legal advice and assistance as necessary.”
Attorneys at Ice Miller LLP are likewise trying to get information to its employer-clients about what the executive orders mean. In such an uncertain situation, Jenifer Brown, chair of the immigration practice group, said the advice right now is to avoid travel.
Specifically, foreign nationals, including lawful permanent residents, from one of the seven banned countries should stay put. Also with the possibility the travel ban could be expanded to other hot spots in the world, international travel for employees from the Middle East or a predominately Muslim country should probably be avoided as well.
The executive orders on immigration are unprecedented, she said.
“We have not seen this aggressive of an action in my time as a practicing attorney which has been about 17 or 18 years,” Brown said. “Certainly not even after 9/11.”
Among the questions emerging over the executive orders is how they will impact the H1B visa lottery that starts April 1. The U.S. places an annual limit of 85,000 on these temporary worker permits. In 2016, a total of 236,000 people applied for one of the H1B visas but now employers are wondering if workers from the seven countries will be able to participate in the lottery.
Brown explained the companies need these H1B workers who are typically degreed professionals like physicians, engineers, faculty, and IT people.
“I suspect that next evolution in this ongoing national dialogue will be the business community’s engagement because they simply don’t have global mobility that business requires,” Brown said. “I don’t think we can stay in this limbo for very long.”