U.S. President Donald Trump – who ran for office on a promise to bar Muslims from entering the country – issued an executive order on Jan. 27 temporarily blocking entry by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. A court ruling temporarily put that ban on hold. But Mr. Trump said he plans to introduce a new version of the immigration order soon, hoping it will satisfy the courts' concerns – and if it doesn't, the legal tug-of-war could begin all over again.
Beyond the courts, the administration has introduced other measures to crack down on immigration. On Feb. 21, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance documents that widen the range of immigrants who are considered priorities for deportation; before, only undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes were targeted, but now anyone convicted, charged or suspected of any crime is deemed a priority for deportation. The measures do, however, leave protections intact for immigrants who came illegally as children. Enforcing the policies will involve hiring thousands of new immigration and customs agents, according to the documents.
Mr. Trump's Jan. 27 executive order hit a major roadblock on Feb. 3, when Seattle federal Judge James Robart issued a restraining order to immediately block it nationwide. The Justice Department appealed to a higher court in San Francisco, where lawyers for the department and the states opposing the ban argued over whether it should be reinstated. On Feb. 9, the federal appeals court declined to reinstate the ban, and rather than fight it again in court, Mr. Trump decided to issue a new order "tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision."
Before Judge Robart's ruling, U.S. officials had already provisionally revoked 60,000 visas for people from the seven countries, but the State Department said it had reversed the cancellations and Homeland Security said it would stop enforcing the ban. After getting the go-ahead from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, airlines around the world (including Canada's major carriers) began allowing travellers from the affected countries to board flights to the United States again.
While the immigration ban fuelled divisive debate across the United States, it didn't come up when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House on Feb. 13, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed the day after. Mr. Goodale said he did plan to speak with his counterpart later about "the legitimate concerns of Canadians so we can both work together to make sure citizens of both countries are treated properly."
Who was targeted by that ban?
Citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: The order barred Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Somali, Sudanese, Syrian and Yemeni citizens from entering the United States for 90 days. In theory, that meant the ban would end on April 27, but Homeland Security chief John Kelly signalled that some countries might remain barred indefinitely. The order also prevented Syrians from getting visas until Mr. Trump, who alleged that the current vetting system is vulnerable to terrorism, signed off on new screening measures.
Refugees: The order put all refugee admissions on hold for 120 days, a period ending May 27, though Syrian refugee processing was suspended indefinitely. The executive order also halved the number of refugees the United States plans to admit this budget year, to 50,000 people from 110,000. Last year, the country accepted 84,995 refugees.
Other countries: Mr. Trump's order directed Homeland Security, the State Department and the national intelligence director to draw up criteria for vetting new visitors, make a list of countries that didn't provide the information they wanted and barring citizens from those countries if the information wasn't provided within 60 days. But on Feb. 3, Homeland Security issued more clarification of the order, saying there were no plans to add more countries to the seven already affected.
Who wasn't targeted by the ban?
American citizens: The order didn't affect immigrants from the seven countries who had U.S. citizenship and travelled with their American passports.
Green card holders: In the ban's initial days, there was much confusion over whether citizens of the seven countries with documents proving U.S. permanent residency – widely known as "green cards" – would be barred or not. Border officials detained several green-card holders at airports, but after public outcry over the executive order, the White House and Homeland Security changed tack, saying permanent residents could still cross the border. But the order also gave border officials broad powers to screen and question visitors, and Mr. Kelly, the Homeland Security chief, said permanent residency would be a "dispositive factor in our case-by-case determination."
Canadian citizens and permanent residents: There are more than 35,000 Canadians with dual citizenship from one of the seven countries. (For instance, federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is a former refugee from Somalia.) The weekend the ban took effect, Mr. Hussen said Canada sought (and got) assurances from Washington that those dual citizens could still travel as usual, despite initial reports from the U.S. Homeland Security and State departments that they were included in the ban. After days of confusion in Canada, Britain, Australia and other countries about their dual citizens, U.S. officials confirmed that dual citizens would be exempt from the ban if they presented valid passports. Canadians who do face problems travelling to the United States are urged to call the emergency travel number, 613-996-8885.
Diplomats: Government officials with diplomatic credentials weren't affected by the order. Canadian federal rules, however, prohibit diplomatic passport-holders from using them for personal trips.
What about Nexus card users?
The measures sent the Canada-U.S. Nexus program, which lets low-risk travellers cross the border faster, into disarray in its initial days.
Several reports emerged of Canadians – some with dual citizenship in the seven Muslim-majority countries, but others with only Canadian citizenship – whose Nexus cards were revoked. On Feb. 8, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said U.S. officials had reinstated those cards for now, adding that about 200 Canadian permanent residents were affected. Mr. Goodale urged Nexus users to call (202) 325-8000 if they felt they were treated unfairly by the U.S. government's decisions about their cards.
What about the people who wanted to come to the United States?
Mr. Trump's executive order stymied the plans of thousands of refugees and would-be immigrants, while disrupting the normal flow of travel and commerce in the country. Here are some closer looks at how that has played out on the ground.
Couldn't the people blocked from the U.S. just come to Canada instead?
Not easily. Refugee and immigration claims are complicated vetting processes in both Canada and the United States, and being approved for one doesn't automatically clear you for the other. Mr. Hussen, the Immigration Minister, said Canada has no plans to take in additional refugees this year because of the U.S. restrictions. "We have an immigration plan that we intend to stick to," he said at a Jan. 31 news conference.
Then there's the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugee claimants to ask for protection in the first safe country they arrive in – so, with some exceptions, people turned away from the U.S. can't come to Canada's border crossings or airports and ask for asylum there. Some refugees try to get around this by sneaking across the border in rural fields and forests; Canadian authorities call this "irregular migration." The number of such cases grew dramatically after Mr. Trump came to power.
The New Democrats urged Ottawa to revisit the Safe Third Country Agreement, and some advocacy organizations and lawyers considered challenging it in court, as Amnesty International and other groups tried to do in the 2000s. Mr. Hussen said there are no plans to revisit or change the agreement.
Did Trump have the authority to do this?
For federal and state agencies, presidential executive orders like Mr. Trump's carry the force of law. Congress could have introduced measures to challenge it (as some Democratic lawmakers and a few Republican senators promised to do), but Republican majorities in the House and Senate meant they would have been unlikely to pass.
The question then became whether the ban was constitutional, which critics said it wasn't because it discriminated on the basis of religion. If and when Mr. Trump issues a new executive order, as he has said he will, the courts will be able to weigh in on its legality.
I want to help. What can I do?
Groups on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border have stepped forward to help those affected by the immigration ban. Before deciding on how to help, here are some resources to help you learn more about what's going on and what resources are needed where.
- U.S.: American Civil Liberties Union
- Canada: Canadian Civil Liberties Association
- Canada: B.C. Civil Liberties Association
Muslim advocacy groups
Government and law-enforcement agencies
- U.S.: Department of Homeland Security
- U.S.: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
- U.S.: Customs and Border Protection
- U.S.: Immigration and Customs Enforcement
- Canada: Citizenship and Immigration Canada
- Canada: CIC guide on volunteering and helping refugees
- Canada: Canada Border Services Agency
With reports from Associated Press, Reuters and Globe staff
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