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Presidential orders have Rochester advocates worried

7-country ban, stepped-up local enforcement raise concerns

President Donald Trump’s recent actions on immigration issues have left attorneys and agencies scrambling to determine their options.

On Friday, Trump signed an executive order to keep immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations out of the United States for three months.

Last week he also signed an order seeking to have local police help with the “investigation, apprehension, or detention” of immigrants illegally in the country.

Kathy Cronin Grant, a spokesperson for Catholic Family Center, which helps to resettle hundreds of refugees in the Rochester area every year, said it’s not clear how Trump’s orders will affect the refugee resettlement program.

“You would think we’d have specifics, but we do not have specifics yet, so we’re kind of in a kind of confusion state,” she said.

State University of New York (SUNY) officials are telling students and faculty to postpone trips to any of the seven nations included in the order. SUNY, the nation’s largest public university system, currently has 320 enrolled students from those countries.

SUNY officials are working to determine the potential impact the president’s order could have on students, faculty and staff who are abroad, or at home on the system’s 64 campuses.

A bigger hit

Wedade Abdallah, director of the immigration program at the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, said she is even more concerned about ramped-up immigration enforcement efforts inside the United States involving local police, “which I think is an even bigger hit to the immigration community.”

Abdallah fears such programs will lead to more intrusive inquiries by police asking for individual identification and proof of immigration status.

“When you have local and state agencies working with the federal government to enforce the immigration laws, it chips away at the constitutional protections for everybody in the United States,” Abdallah said.

Grant said her agency is concerned about refugees planning to come here on SIV visas — a special program for people who worked with the U.S. military as translators and interpreters in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“These types of visas were not called out in the executive order, but yet we’re still not sure if they’re going to be stopped at the airport. We are talking with lawyers who are planning on meeting them at the airport, just to make sure their paperwork is in order and they’re represented well,” she said.

She said a small group of refugees — less than a dozen — expected to arrive this week were not allowed to board planes.

“So, in terms of the stream of expected people, that’s an immediate affect that we have,” she said.

The resettlement process normally takes two to three years, depending on the country of origin.

“The vetting process is intensive and complex,” she said.

Grave affect

Catholic Family Services also has refugees on staff with relatives in their native countries whom they were hoping to bring here. And those staffers who were planning to travel to their home countries to visit family won’t be making those trips because they may not be allowed to come back.

“We do know it’s going to affect us gravely, we just don’t know the details at this point,” she said.

Abdallah said the ability of a lawyer to help someone stopped at the border varies, depending on the person’s status.

“For permanent residents, attorneys could advocate with the border patrol agents to help bring them in,” she said.

“The new directive from the Department of Homeland Security is that permanent residents, or people with ‘green cards’ should not be kept out of the country unless there is some information regarding their danger to the safety of the United States,” Abdullah said.

Although attorneys might try to advocate for a client at the border, people are not being given access to attorneys in some cases, depending on the port of entry.

“They have said this executive order should not affect ‘green card’ holders, but it seems to be that it absolutely is,” Abdallah said.

“They’re not letting people in and they’re still putting them through additional inspection, even though they’re permanent residents of the United States,” she said.