State immigration lawyers say clients fearful amid Trump orders

Indiana immigration attorneys and their clients face uncertainty after President Donald Trump issued executive orders in his first week banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, suspending refugee resettlement programs and stepping up domestic enforcement.

“I do think there will be continuing legal challenges to the orders, and I anticipate this is the beginning of a long conversation rather than something that is concrete and final,” Lewis & Kappes P.C. attorney Sarah Moshe Burrow said. She’s among a chorus of lawyers who said clients are fearful, regardless of their national origin or immigration status, in the wake of the orders.

At IL deadline, federal courts in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed implementation of Trump’s orders.

Geoffrey Heeren, director of the Valparaiso University Law School Immigration Clinic, said federal courts will determine the fate of Trump’s executive orders, and the outcome may depend on which circuit court first hears challenges. But he said the clinic had been getting calls even before Trump’s orders from people concerned about his campaign rhetoric and whether they might be deported.

Heeren said a client at the Valpo clinic from one of the seven nations has a pending application for a work permit, but if it’s put on hold as may be the case under Trump’s order, the woman won’t be able to support herself or her children.

“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.

Immigration attorneys at the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic arrived the morning of Jan. 30, after announcement of the orders, to find 27 voicemails left over the weekend from immigrants worried about their futures. Trump’s orders were followed by angry protests at airports around the nation when many immigrants were denied entry or re-entry to the U.S., with many detained and denied access to legal counsel.

“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 90-day ban — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria 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. Along with the ban, Trump also suspended refugee resettlement for four months, and lawyers said the orders leave open the possibility more nations will be added to the travel-ban list.

Broyles said immigrants also are concerned by Trump’s orders targeting sanctuary cities, increasing domestic enforcement and expanding expedited removal. Broyles said implementing such moves would be unprecedented. The changing landscape makes advising clients difficult.

“For us, it makes it so much harder,” Indianapolis immigration attorney Christian Mendoza said of the president’s orders, court stays and overall uncertainty. “These are difficult times.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a Freedom of Information Act request Feb. 2 with the local U.S. Customs & Border Protection Office to find out how Trump administration officials are interpreting and executing the immigration ban. The local filing was part of a nationwide effort among 50 ACLU affiliates.

Mendoza and Merrillville immigration attorney Sophia Arshad, of Arshad Pangere & Warring LLP, shared a similar concern that immigrants in some cases were being detained at airports for long periods, then asked to sign an I-407 form. This document voluntarily relinquishes the person’s lawful permanent residence status.

“We’re worried,” Mendoza said, “this is going to become the norm now.”

“We’re dealing with clients who are scared, a few clients whose family members are in limbo,” Arshad said. As an example, she has clients from the seven nations who previously were cleared to enter the country, but who last week weren’t able to board an airplane for the U.S. due to the executive order.

Arshad said she was advising about one-quarter of her roughly 300 immigration clients not to travel. She planned to inform them that if do, they run the risk of being detained or denied re-entry to the country.

The situation is very disconcerting for a lot of people, Burrow said, regardless of their country of origin, even if they have a green card or a valid non-immigrant visa. “They are almost jailed here if they can’t leave and come back,” she said.

Broyles 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, but now 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 is 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, associate director of legal services 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 the weekend after Trump’s order were signed. NIJC, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are trying to coordinate litigation in the Midwest.

One of the questions Koop posed to the Notre Dame Law NIJC externs working this semester on asylum cases from Mexico and Central America 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.

Attorneys at Ice Miller LLP are trying to get information to employer-clients about what the executive orders mean. In such an uncertain situation, Jenifer Brown, chair of the immigration practice group, agreed the advice right now is to avoid travel.

“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.”

It’s also unclear how the orders will impact the H1B visa lottery that starts April 1. Last year, 85,000 degreed professionals like physicians, engineers, faculty and IT people were admitted under the program.

“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.”•

Staff writers Olivia Covington, Marilyn Odendahl and Dave Stafford contributed to this article.

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