By Victoria Espinoza and Alex Petroski
The recent executive order by President Donald Trump (R) for immigration reform affected refugees and immigrants across the country this past week, including a North Shore-bound traveler.
Trump signed an order Jan. 27 to ban travelers from seven nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering the United States for the next 90 days. The immigration reform effort has been met with criticism from federal legislators and activists, and protests against the ban broke out in airports and cities across the country, some starting just hours after the order was signed.
Other federal politicians and commentators support the action, citing the country’s need to strengthen immigration laws and secure the U.S. from terrorist attacks.
Stony Brook student detained
The travel ban and its hasty roll out impacted Stony Brook University president of Graduate Student Organization, Vahideh Rasekhi, who is pursuing a doctorate in linguistics.
According to a statement from university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Rasekhi was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport when she arrived back in the U.S. from a trip to Iran to visit her family, though she arrived on a layover flight from Ukraine. She was detained and later released Jan. 29. Stanley addressed Trump’s executive order, urging caution from international students, and recommending students from the seven countries listed in the order not travel outside of the U.S. unless absolutely necessary during the 90-day period.
“In November, I shared a message with the campus community expressing the university’s unwavering commitment to diversity — anchored in our strong values of access and inclusiveness — and to creating a campus environment that welcomes all,” Stanley said. “I want to reaffirm the university is resolute on this stance.”
Stanley also offered international students contact information for the university’s Visa and Immigration Services Office, and planned to host an information session with legal experts at the Wang Center yesterday, Feb. 1.
Rasekhi, who arrived at Stony Brook in 2010 after attending the University of California and California State University, declined an interview request, but addressed her experience in an emailed statement through a university media relations representative.
“I am now grateful to be back on the Stony Brook University campus, where I plan to complete my Ph.D. dissertation and continue my work as president of our Graduate Student Organization,” she said. “I would like to extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation to all who intervened on my behalf, including elected representatives, attorneys from the International Refugee Assistance Project and Legal Aid Society who volunteered their help, the ACLU, the [SBU] Linguistics Department and the leadership at Stony Brook University.”
Local officials react
The U.S. representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), one of Trump’s local supporters, said in an email through a press representative he played a role in Rasekhi’s release from JFK, though he said he supports the order.
“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first,” Zeldin said.
“I sympathize with every innocent person looking to come to America for a better life but we must prioritize America’s national security first.”
— Lee Zeldin
He added he would support a ban on all Syrian refugees entering the U.S. until vulnerabilities in vetting systems can be improved.
“America is a nation of immigrants and people should have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream,” Zeldin said. … “The ultimate humanitarian victory is to assist with efforts to stabilize these nations and eliminate the threats there to peace.”
He also said he plans to monitor the application of the order and intervene in cases where he believes it is being used incorrectly.
The 3rd Congressional District U.S. representative, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), offered no such support for the order.
“While we all are concerned about the security of our people and our nation, we cannot abandon our values,” he said in a statement. … “This issue cannot become an excuse for discrimination. I am adamantly opposed to targeting whole populations of people based upon their religion. It is un-American.”
After the signing of the executive order Jan. 27, subsequent protests over detentions, the opinion that this order targets people based on religion and the apparent uncoordinated rollout, Trump issued a statement Jan. 29.
“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” he said. “We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
A closer look at the order
David Sperling, an immigration attorney based out of Huntington Station, said he believes there is a need for reform.
“I’m an immigration attorney, I’ve been doing this for 22 years,” he said in a phone interview. “From being in immigration court I have seen there is a great deal of fraud even from people applying for asylum from the United States.”
He referenced a lack of documentation from refugees in areas like Syria.
Detractors of the ban have criticized the inclusion of the countries on the list — all of which have a Muslim-majority population.
According to New America, a nonpartisan think tank, “not one domestic terrorist attack since 9/11” has been executed by citizens of the seven countries now banned from entering the U.S. “Overall, terrorism in America is happening from homegrown radicals,” the think tank said. Foreign attackers have come from Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, none of which made the list.
The new administration has contended it has simply continued an initiative started by the Obama administration, which flagged the seven countries as possible areas of concern in 2015, and imposed limited restrictions.
“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this.”
— David Sperling
“I’ve never in my career as an immigration attorney seen anything like this,” Sperling said, though he added many aspects of Trump’s presidency thus far are without precedent.
During the 90-day period, the president has ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence to review the current information required from a country before a traveler is granted a visa or admission to the U.S. to ensure the country is not allowing in individuals who are security threats.
The executive order states the 90-day ban is needed to ensure research during this time is successful, the maximum utilization of resources are being used and adequate standards are established. The order also leaves room for special exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
A mission of this order is to eventually implement new uniform screening standards for immigration programs.
For immigrants and refugees, there is already an extensive system process in place.
For immigration screening, according to the State Department, the process includes submitting a petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, submitting financial and other supporting documents, and completing an interview.
“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe. … To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban. … This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
— Donald Trump
According to the White House, the refugee screening process involves multiple steps, including interviews with the United Nations refugee agency to confirm refugee status and conducting biographic security checks. While all of these steps are happening, each refugee’s file is being continuously reevaluated based on any new, relevant terrorism information.
Less than 1 percent of the global refugee population makes it past the first step in the process currently. The order also suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, but plans to prioritize refugee claims of minority religious-based persecution in their home country.
The ban also sets a 50,000 cap on refugees allowed to enter the states in 2017, compared to the Obama administration’s goal of admitting 110,000 refugees, according to the Pew Research Institute.
The order intends to complete and implement a biometric entry-exit tracking system of fingerprints and digital photos for all travelers to the U.S. which was discussed by prior administrations and committees.
The order also intends that there will be more transparency in reporting facts and data collection to the public regarding the number of foreign nationals who planned or carried out acts of terrorism.
Sperling said most of his clientele come from Hispanic communities and are concerned about the future.
“They’re scared, they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Sperling said. “There’s a great deal of fear and uncertainty in the immigrant community.”