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Minnesota refugees, attorneys brace for travel ban

By Doualy Xaykaothao

MPR.org/90.1 FM

Refugees and Twin Cities attorneys are preparing for the impact of the Trump administration’s revised travel ban that could take effect Thursday.

The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated part of President Trump’s executive order, allowing for a ban on travelers and refugees from six majority-Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. who lack a “a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

That means refugees like Abu Talib Ali, a wheelchair attendant at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, could have been denied asylum. The 58-year-old was an attorney in Sudan representing Christian clients.

Ali, who is a Muslim, had opposed strict religious law in his own country, and was apparently tortured and imprisoned for his belief. Seven years ago, he was granted asylum.

He and his family now call Minneapolis home.

“When I came, I didn’t have any family members in the United States, but America gave me my freedom,” Ali said. “This is the place that has helped me feel safe for the first time in 20 years. Now, I am very afraid that people like me will not be able to find safety.” The high court’s decision could lead to months of hassles for travelers and consular officials regarding who is allowed entry. But most visitors to the U.S. and those with ties to relatives or institutions will not be affected.

When Trump issued his first travel ban in January, it set off chaos at airports accompanied by protests in many cities.

Ali said this latest travel ban, despite its revisions, is still a bad idea.

“The United States is falling into the same trap that Sudan did. When you start targeting people based on their religion, everyone loses,” he said.

And he’s not alone in feeling this way. Refugees from the affected countries — Somalia, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, and Sudan — are reaching out to Twin Cities organizations and attorneys with their concerns and questions.

Teresa Nelson, interim director of the Minnesota ACLU chapter, said all eyes will be on the Supreme Court when arguments resume in October. She thinks the government has undercut its argument that the ban is necessary for security.

“When the court is looking at this, they’re going to be looking at, ‘Is this ban really a pretext for discrimination against Muslims?’ or ‘Is it something that is bona fide that the government actually needs for security reasons,’” she said.

• Listen: What’s happening with President Trump’s travel ban?

John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, said he and many immigration attorneys think there’s strong indication the executive orders will not pass constitutional muster.

“It’s a bit unfortunate that we’ve got this 90-day period until the court takes up these decisions with full briefings, full arguments, where we’re sort of in limbo with a certain spectrum of people who will be impacted,” Keller said.

Kim Crockett, the senior policy fellow and general counsel at Center of the American Experiment in Golden Valley, welcomes the travel ban.

“I think these restrictions are very modest. I think they’re consistent with the president’s duty to protect the United States, but for us it’s more of a state budget issue.”

Her organization believes in controlled immigration, and it thinks Minnesota spends too much money on resettling refugees.

“I think we’ve welcomed a lot of people here, and now we need to do a good job of actually getting them squared away,” Crockett said. “I think it’s going to be harder to do if we just keep bringing people in.”

The revised travel ban only impacts those who are applying for new visas, so the impact is less likely to be visible at airports.

But at least one volunteer attorney will be monitoring international flights. St Paul immigration attorney Kara Lynum is organizing an effort to watch for any irregularities.

“So if someone is denied entry, and they do have a bona fide relationship, then we would be working with our local litigators … to hold the government to the standard that the Supreme Court set out,” she said.