The United States Supreme Court on Monday decided to reinstate a scaled-down version of President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban before it considers the case again in the fall, and the uncertainty around both the ruling and how it will be implemented has left refugees and their local advocates in the dark.
Since Trump signed an executive order in late January banning entry into the United States by citizens of numerous Muslim-majority countries and halting Syrian refugee resettlement, the International Rescue Committee has remained proactive in helping vulnerable people fleeing the war-torn Middle East find safety, resettling refugees in 27 cities and their surrounding areas throughout the country. There are six IRC offices located in California, one of which is in Turlock.
“The most amazing thing with the first travel ban was how much it rallied the community’s support,” said Karen Ferguson, executive director of the IRC’s Northern California offices. “If this type of unfortunate news continues to rally people to speak up and have a voice, I suppose that’s one positive that can come out of this.”
Though Trump’s first executive order barred citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sedan and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days and banned refugees indefinitely, protests around the country and several court-ordered blocks on the ban resulted in the President unveiling a new order in March.
The new travel ban excluded Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens were blocked from entering the United States, and rather than suspending the country’s refugee program indefinitely, suspended it for 120 days.
Now, after kickback from numerous federal and District judges, the Justice Department has requested that the Supreme Court hear the case. In the meantime, the Court’s decision to green-light enforcement of much of the ban will affect hundreds of refugees, said Ferguson, imposing tough restrictions on travel from the six countries included in the ban and the entry of all refugees until the court hears the case this fall.
“The new decision happened yesterday, and already there are more questions than answers,” said Ferguson.
What’s unclear in the Court’s decision, she said, is the fact that some refugees and citizens of the banned countries may be allowed entry so long as they claim a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. While the majority of refugees helped by the IRC, specifically in Turlock, do have U.S. ties waiting for them, whether or not the IRC’s definition of an acceptable U.S. tie will match that of the Supreme Court.
“It’s expensive to live here in California, so we try not to take refugees without U.S. ties because we want them to have a positive support system already in place,” said Ferguson. “Potentially, there are so many people that could be affected because there is that question with no answer of, ‘What is considered an acceptable tie, and who is the entity that would determine that?’”
Since Oct. 1, 43 percent of refugees who the IRC have helped to resettle arrived with no U.S. ties, and in the year prior, 47 percent did not have a U.S. tie. Of the 2,500 refugees expected to resettle in the United States during the remainder of the fiscal year, who have been fully vetted and need only book their flights, 845 individuals could potentially be barred from entering the country because they have no U.S. ties. There are currently 140 refugees who have already booked their flights and are preparing for their journey to America, but some of them don’t have a connection here and could be affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, said Ferguson, leaving them in limbo.
“There could be some people that could be caught up,” she said.
Ferguson gave the example of a Sacramento-bound family expected to fly before July 5 from Ukraine who has U.S. ties that were deemed acceptable by the IRC, but could be questioned under the travel ban.
“That’s going to be a terrible situation to watch,” said Ferguson. “Will they be stopped because of the suspension of refugee processing or will they be allowed because of their U.S. tie? Will their U.S. tie be considered bona fide?”
In Turlock, about 470 refugees have arrived in the city since Oct. 1, and Ferguson anticipates 550 arriving in total by the end of the fiscal year. Of those refugees, a majority are either from Iran or Special Immigrant Visa holders from Afghanistan — a program available to those who served as interpreters with the U.S. Army. Turlock used to see more Syrian refugees, said Ferguson, but since Trump signed his first executive order hindering travel, the number of Syrian refugees has decreased.
In February, Nael Abdulqader and his family were a rare group of Syrian refugees that, after spending time apart due to the original ban, were reunited thanks to help from the Turlock IRC office. The family had fled Syria and lived in a camp in Turkey before they were eventually permitted entrance into the United States.
The Turlock IRC office is currently looking into how many of the city’s refugees will be affected by the Court’s ruling because they have family in a banned country who had hoped to come to America. Six more family groups from Afghanistan are expected to arrive this weekend, said Ferguson, and she hopes that by then the temporary ban and its implementation will be clearer.
“We’re just hoping that the Supreme Court will further explain, and maybe decide to echo the lower court’s earlier decisions,” said Ferguson. “It’s going to be harsh waiting until fall, and people's lives will be in jeopardy because of this. People who had the opportunity to come probably won’t end up coming now.”
The Supreme Court’s Monday ruling is expected to be implemented sometime in the 72 hours following the decision, and Ferguson, along with the IRC as whole, is anxiously awaiting how the Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security will interpret the Court’s ruling.