On Monday morning, President Donald Trump signed a second executive order on immigration. The highly anticipated new order has been designed to withstand the legal challenges faced by the first one. At Yale, the first executive order drew both legal and social ire.
A month earlier, a crowd of hundreds of people gathered for a rally on the New Haven Green, right outside of Yale’s campus. The members had marched nearly two miles from Wilbur Cross High School, where the annual Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) 5K run had taken place, to the Green. The day was bitterly cold and cloudy, but the crowd stood outside listening, and chanting “This is what democracy looks like” and “Let them in.” The speakers included local and state politicians of all ranks: Mayor Toni Harp, US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, US Rep. Rosa deLauro, State Senator Gary Winefield—and three refugees.
One marcher had a large papier mache Trump head, whose hair waved in the cold wind above the crowd. The speeches at the rally castigated Trump and the recent executive order he had signed targeting immigration. That ban temporarily halted the United States refugee resettlement program, suspended all entry to refugees from Syria, and stopped the entry of any non-citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.
Midway through one of the speeches, a white Chevy pickup truck drove by the Green at a slow crawl. Once it pulled alongside the protesters, a man inside leaned out the window, yelling, “GO TRUMP! GO TRUMP!”
After the chaos surrounding the first ban—of lawyers and protesters storming airports, families separated, and legal residents uncertain about their future—the Trump administration has tried again. The second executive order attempts to circumvent the problems of the last. It more explicitly describes the national security threat each country on the list poses to the U.S., ignoring the fact that no person from any of the countries listed has a terrorist record in the U.S. It now excludes Iraq: Trump claimed this was because the Iraqi government gave his administration security assurances, but failed to mention the efforts of the State and Defense departments, who insisted that interpreters who serve alongside the U.S. army in Iraq should be allowed in.
The new executive order maintains a 120 day ban on all refugee resettlement. Even after that ban ends, there will be a 50,000 refugee cap — shrunk from 110,000 under the Obama administration. 35,000 refugees have already been resettled this year, leaving only 15,000 spots open.
Will You Be Barred from the U.S.?
Answer the following questions to determine whether or not you will be banned under the new executive order.
Stella Shannon ’18 is the co-president of Students of Salaam (SoS), an organization at Yale dedicated to educating the children of immigrants and refugees in English language and American culture, while also doing community outreach within New Haven to foster understanding of refugees. In an interview with The Politic, Shannon said that events like the one on the Green have become more common since Trump’s election and the first travel ban.
Connecticut, Shannon said, has been historically welcoming to refugees. And New Haven is a pocket of refugee resettlement, accepting 420 of Connecticut’s roughly 500 last year. Trying to get a feel for the political climate post-Trump, Shannon spoke to a three state representatives. “Since the election, and since the ban, they have seen a really big change in the dialogue and the conversation coming out of their constituencies,” she said.
As part of its community engagement mission, SoS organizes events that aim to attract a wide variety of New Haven residents, and expose them to the humanity of the refugees in their communities. Lis Seigel ’20, the Community Events Director for SoS, told The Politic that popular events include things like movie nights and Arab cooking classes led by Syrian moms.
“We had a woman who hadn’t ever tried hummus before at our movie screening,” she said. “We just want to show that the culture these refugees bring with them exists outside of the crisis that brought them, and that they have such culture and such vibrant lives.”
Beyond cultural connection, both Shannon and Seigel believe SoS’ community engagement is crucial to bridging the divide that exists between refugees and the communities that host them.
“The unknown generates fears that can be shaped and molded by someone in authority like our current president, and then generate positive support for something like the Muslim ban,” Seigel said.
For Students of Salaam, refugees receiving an education and their acceptance in the community go hand in hand.
“Part of our mission with our kids is helping them adjust to American life. Adjusting to American life is very difficult if they perceive an environment that is hostile to them, or if they perceive that the president doesn’t think they should be there,” Seigel said.
“That’s something we talk to our ambassadors about. How do you respond to these things, and how do you talk to your students and help them feel happiness about America but also like, process Donald Trump with them?” she said.
She added that the ban has had tangible effects on the way the children Student’s of Salaam teachers see themselves within the New Haven community.
“Our ambassadors have seen that our students have gotten bullied. We’ve dealt with more bullying this semester than we ever have in the past,” she said.
Lina Najem ’18, a student ambassador with SoS, has seen the effects of the current political climate on refugees firsthand. She has been visiting a family of Syrian refugees twice a week since the start of the school year. Now she feels like a member of the family.
“Honestly, my favorite place at Yale is their house. It’s so wholesome,” she said in an interview with The Politic.
“They’re the loveliest people. They’re always making us dinner, giving us food. The mom always cooks and sends me home with food, she’s like, ‘You don’t eat! You look too skinny,’” she continued.
The family Najem visits—two adults and four children—left Syria in 2012 and spent four years in a camp in Jordan before coming to America. In Jordan, the children did not have access to education. Her children were four of 80,000 children living in Jordan who did not receive a formal education last year, according to a Human Rights Watch report. When the family got to America, the children were immediately enrolled in classes that corresponded with their age—but were well above their skill level.
The eldest son, who is now 18, didn’t speak any English when he first arrived. Najem said that when the son entered into the New Haven Public School System, he was placed into senior-level classes, despite only knowing two English words: “yes” and “no.”
“‘Yes and no were the only words I knew, and when anyone spoke to me,’” the son once told Najem. “‘I would either respond yes, or I would respond no, by just interpreting facial expressions and body language.’”
The family, which has twelve total children, has been reduced now only to the youngest four. The rest are scattered across the Middle East: Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan. The family stays in contact with one another often—but the transition has been a hard one.
“When the situation in Syria gets really bad, like on the siege on Aleppo, the eldest one would not leave his room. We were trying to get him to come out for pizza and he was just like, ‘I can’t, I can’t.’” Najem said.
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric can’t be escaped, even in their personal lives.
“Their schools aren’t necessarily the most welcoming place for Syrian refugees,” she said.
Najem remembers a specific incident where the youngest of the sons, a 9 year-old boy, approached her: “He was saying that, ‘Oh, Trump thinks we’re all terrorists’.”
“He was like: ‘I just want to be a fireman.’ It broke my heart.”
Under the first travel ban, families like the ones that Najem works with would not have been able to enter the United States. Now, their numbers will be severely limited.
IRIS, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, is a non-profit organization that resettles refugees in Connecticut. Their annual Run for Refugees saw a turnout of about 3,000 people this year, according to Drew Ruben ’11 LAW ’17, an IRIS board member and founder of Blue State Coffee. That is more than participation since the run began nine years ago—combined. The Run for Refugees raised over 150,000 dollars, and a student-sponsored benefit concert at Yale raised 14,000 dollars for IRIS.
But Kaveh Khoshnood, the Director of Undergraduate Studies at Yale’s Public Health School and an IRIS board member, said that in the wake of the first ban, IRIS had to console many anxious refugees about their status in the United States.
“They had a lot of questions about themselves. Even though the executive director, Chris George, reassured them: ‘Look, this does not apply to you, you are here legally! You have all the documents, you went through your two, two and a half year process.’”
Khoshnood said, they still had to be told, “Look, no one’s gonna come knocking at your door.”
There were also anxieties within the organization.
“A significant portion of IRIS’ funds come from the federal government, and it’s all based on how many refugees you resettle,” he said.
Khoshnood estimated that 60 percent of IRIS’ funds come from the federal government. Still, IRIS stands in a better position than most other refugee resettlement organizations around the country.
“There are some IRIS-like agencies around the country, who have eighty, ninety percent of the funds coming from the federal government. If the government decides their program gets cut in half, a third, that’s what will happen,” Khoshnood said.
IRIS, he explained, has the funds to stay afloat—at least, temporarily.
“They can survive, they can continue for a while…there’s not a whole lot more they can do after a year, but they’re gonna be okay for awhile,” he said.
Refugee resettlement programs suffer especially under both the first and the second ban, because the president is given a lot of legal leeway to do as he wishes. This leaves programs like IRIS with little legal recourse.
“When it comes to refugee resettlement, the president has a lot of discretion as to the number of refugees that we take in. With other aspects of the executive order there are more grounds to challenge what the president did or will do,” Ruben said.
The challenges to the first order have come from across the country. The national stay on the immigration ban came from a lawsuit filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on January 30. On February 3, federal district judge James L. Robart ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, issuing a temporary restraining order of parts of the immigration ban and allowing for a resumption of travel from those seven countries. Just under a week later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Robart’s ruling, denying the White House’s attempts to have a stay put on the restraining order.
Speaking about the first executive order, Adam Winkler, professor of law at UCLA, told The Politic, “It seems like Donald Trump’s travel ban was motivated by a desire to discriminate against Muslims.” On the campaign trail, Trump promised repeatedly that he would institute a ‘Muslim ban.’ Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York, was quoted on Fox News as saying that Donald Trump had told him that he wanted a “Muslim ban,” and asked him “how to do it legally.”
The Trump administration contended that the language of the bans does not explicitly target Muslims, but that it just targets people of a certain national origin, which immigration policymakers have historically been given license to do. Language giving religious minorities preference was removed from the second ban—but the countries banned are still majority Muslim. Further, the administration hold that the bans do not target the majority of the world’s Muslims, and therefore could not be properly characterized as a “Muslim ban.”
“I would not call it a Muslim ban, and I think that’s a mistake that the challengers have made, because I think it’s a vulnerable argument on their part.” Peter Schuck, an immigration law expert at Yale Law School told The Politic.
On the subject of the first ban, Schuck said that courts were unlikely to rule based on the intent of the law. “You have to take their purported rationale at face-value, if only because that’s what the courts are going to do.”
“People are speaking of it in the context of the administration’s anti-Muslim sentiment, and I understand that, but as a legal matter, speaking of it as a Muslim ban isn’t likely to trigger any heightened Establishment Clause Review.”
He went on, “They’re not going to inquire into what the real motives of the administration were. They won’t do that as a matter of court process.”
However, in the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the court accepts that discriminatory laws can be examined beyond face value. “It is well established that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law may be considered in evaluating Establishment and Equal Protection Clause claims.”
Experts did agree on one thing: that the strong constitutional claims against the first ban would have come from plaintiffs that had some connection to the United States. Many of the strongest legal challenges to the first executive order faced were rooted in the restrictions it imposed on green card holders, visa holders, and other non-citizens that have ties, both legal and informal, to the United States.
That is why Trump amended his executive order to exclude people with dual citizenship, valid visas, and green cards.
But for asylum-seekers, refugees, and other immigrants without those ties, the court system might not be able to do very much. What might the new administration’s policies mean for refugee families that haven’t yet been granted asylum in the United States?
“The truth is that people who are citizens of this foreign nation, who don’t have a visa, don’t have any reliance interests, and who don’t have a green card, don’t really have any rights under the US Constitution anyway,” Winkler said.
On the topic of immigration, the Office of the President has been given broad discretion by Congress and in the courts to do as it pleases.
But even those who understand the limits of legal recourse for refugees and asylum seekers see an upshot.
“I think part of the story of Trump, will be that his overly aggressive abuse of executive power will lead to new limits being established on what the executive can do,” Winkler predicted.
Ruben, too, is optimistic about the future. “All I can do individually, and IRIS as an institution, is make our voices heard at every level, as loudly as we can. Hopefully in doing so we’ll be able to build enough pressure that the refugee resettlement numbers either won’t be cut further or will go back to its pre-cut levels.”
But Winkler painted a stark picture of the lack of checks on executive power, especially as it applies to non-citizens in the six targeted countries: “[Trump] could declare war against them, and kill them all. That’s what he could do. It’s the ultimate exercise of government power.”
There are other legal challenges to the ban going through the courts. Challenges are being brought against the administration’s national security justifications, or the threats to due process the ban creates. Only time will tell whether this new ban will be struck down, and what the Trump administration’s next steps will be.
Before the new executive order was signed, White House adviser Stephen Miller admitted that the ban will be nearly the same as the one it replaces: “These are mostly minor, technical differences. Fundamentally, you are still going to have the same, basic policy outcome for the country.”
The president signed the new order in private, with no cameras. It remains to be seen what the result of it will be. But at Yale, there are many people ready to respond.
Najem will continue seeing her refugee family. The eldest has learned more words than “yes” and “no”— he is now applying to college and ready to contribute to his new country. “They are refugees, but they don’t let that define them,” Najem said. “They are so much more, and they can be so much more to the community.”