|An Iranian citizen and green card holder greets his family after they were detained at the Seattle airport. - Reuters|
Even if politics is not of particular interest, you have likely come across news and social media headlines about the "Muslim ban" or "immigration suspension."
This ban was introduced by the White House about two weeks ago and has already generated much confusion and conflicting positions from government officials at all levels and across the political spectrum. So much so, that several differing federal rulings on the ban has left Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers scratching their heads, causing disorder with flights and at airports nationally and globally.
America fights back
So, what is the infamously controversial travel ban?
Let's begin with the basics.
Fulfilling his campaign promise to implement a halt of refugees and Muslims entering the U.S. amid terror attacks in Europe, President Trump signed an executive action on Friday, Jan. 27. It gutted the Refugee Resettlement Program and barred individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries— Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen— from entering the U.S., despite the fact that there have been no attacks on U.S. soil from anyone from any of those countries as far back as 1975.
An executive action is an official order from the commander-in-chief about how federal agencies should use resources within the existing Congressional framework.
That means the president ordered the TSA, CBP, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to deny refugees from any country and U.S. visa holders from the seven countries to travel to the country for 120 and 90 days, respectively – until proper vetting procedures are set.
The order indefinitely bans Syrian refugees.
Trump's action had broad impacts, as it included revoking valid U.S. visas of students, employees and family members of citizens. Suddenly, legal residents traveling outside the country were not allowed back in. This posed a greater legal challenge for travelers who were in the air when Trump signed the order.
According to a Feb. 4 Justice Department statement, about 60,000 travelers were turned away at airports and borders and 100,000 visas were revoked.
The same day the order was signed, massive protests erupted at airports nationwide. Swarms of attorneys were posted at airports, offering free legal services to travelers who were held up and questioned.
Officials and corporations— especially in the tech world— issued statements bashing the ban, saying it was unconstitutional as well as detrimental to their businesses, schools and the American economy; and that it needlessly split families apart.
A handful of lawsuits against the Trump administration and DHS ensued. A dozen federal court decisions have since either reversed or defended the ban.
So, how did the judicial branch react to the immigration ban?
On Saturday, Jan. 28, amid widespread confusion at airports that weekend, the administration clarified that the ban does not impact green card holders or legal permanent residents.
On Monday, Feb. 30, officials in Washington state and Minnesota sued the administration to temporarily restrain the ban and suspend certain parts of the order. These lawsuits sparked similar cases elsewhere.
As a consequence, the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) filed a lawsuit the following day and a Detroit federal judge affirmed that green card holders were unaffected, no matter which country they're from.
Several lawsuits filed in federal courts, including in California, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Hawaii, joined the battle on Thursday, Feb. 2 and Friday, Feb. 3. The judges ruled to enact emergency Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO) that place a short term suspension on the ban.
However, a federal judge in Boston declined a TRO against an injunction to allow detained or in-flight green card holders into the U.S.
On Friday, Feb. 3, a federal court in Seattle, Wash. ruled on a crucial, wide-reaching decision to discontinue the ban on visa holders from the seven countries. The Seattle judge's ruling angered the Trump administration, leading to a flurry of tweets by the president, including, "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
"The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart. Bad people are very happy!" Trump also tweeted.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) renounced the decision on Saturday, Feb. 4. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement that the DOJ "intends to file an emergency stay of this order and defend the executive order of the president, which we believe is lawful and appropriate."
The DOJ appealed the Seattle judge's decision in the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
The circuit court initially denied the appeal, but both sides argued on Thursday, Feb. 9 whether to maintain the Seattle decision to keep the ban suspended.
In a major victory to immigrants and civil rights activists, the appeals court upheld the freeze on the immigration ban later that day.
It is expected that Trump will ask the Supreme Court to step in.
As it stands
Where does the immigration ban stand today and how might it impact you or a family member
As it stands, visa and green card holders from the seven countries can travel to and from the U.S., said Khaled Beydoun, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Beydoun said the seven-page order from Seattle came with positive signs and included arguments of violation of due process, equal protection, 14th Amendment and 1st Amendment establishment clauses. It also claims the ban was rooted in the idea that Trump called it Muslim ban from the beginning of his campaign.
"It is the most emphatic ruling coming out the court," Beydoun said of the Seattle court decision.
Abed Ayoub, policy director of the Washington, D.C.-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said that TRO puts parts of the immigration ban where it had been before the executive order was signed, which reinstates about 60,000 revoked visas.
But Ayoub clarified that judicial order only amends specific parts of the executive action. Other sections, like instating a list of crimes committed by immigrants, remains.
That is reassuring to some, yet uncertainty prevails at both domestic and overseas airports. There are reports of U.S. residents and visa holders being detained or questioned, Ayoub added.
Beydoun echoed those reports and said some visa and green card holders are undergoing extreme vetting and intrusive questioning. Some were being coerced by CBP officers to sign Abandonment of Lawful Resident Status (I-407) forms, which would void their green cards.
He added that the TRO also applies to refugees.
Sharifa Abassi, an immigration attorney, said detained immigrants are a priority for deportation. That includes unaccompanied children without a sponsor (friend or relative) who can take custody of them while their case is pending.
ACRL Director Rula Aoun said the ban caused chaos within the community and the civil rights organization, as attorneys and family members scrambled to grapple with the details and free loved ones in immigration limbo.
"We were dealing with a lot of inconsistency between government action and the order and the various decisions across the nation," Aoun said.
She added that the ACRL received dozens of calls from worried Arab Americans, with the most prominent question being whether permanent residents will be affected.