Posted by Guest on May 05, 2017 in Blog

294A1976.JPGBy Sam Leathley

At AAI’s Expert Debriefing during last week’s Arab American Leadership Days, Greg Chen of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and Jen Smyers of Church World Service delivered a concise, realistic look at how immigration and refugee policies under Trump will impact the Arab American and Muslim American community.  

Beginning with an even, pragmatic tone, Chen acknowledged that many in the audience “knew this (the Muslim ban) was coming” in the months leading up to the election. Like many in attendance, Chen and other panelists had worked together on immigration issues in the past; so while they were troubled by the President’s policies, they were unsurprised by how the policies were implemented. Drawing on their experience, many groups began combatting Trump’s potential policies before he assumed office: already, AILA and other organizations may have prevented the worst possible outcome of Trump’s bans by dismantling the NSEERS (National Security Entry Exit Registration System) program. Though NSEERS was shown to be ineffective since it was established, it had not been taken offline, so AILA and other groups fought to disable it before the data could be used by the Trump administration.  

294A1997.JPGChen argued that in the future, however, the fight against such harsh immigration policies will play out in the courts. The Muslim Ban is currently being argued at the appellate level, and we can expect more cases to be argued in the upcoming months. Chen further anticipated that in addition to the executive orders, we will witness the development of a ‘deportation force’—already, the executive branch is encouraging state and federal law enforcement to act as supplemental immigration forces. To prevent this and other negative immigration outcomes from being funded, AILA is working against a supplemental bill that would allocate DHS funding to increased deportation efforts and Trump’s wall. Chen ended with two recommendations for the audience: that they tell the stories of those impacted by immigration policy, and that they engage with partners when advocating on immigration issues. 

Building on Chen’s commentary, Jen Smyers explored how Trump’s bans impact refugees. She began by posing a question to the audience. People frequently ask Smyers, “can’t the administration make decisions regarding refugees—the number of refugees admitted, the type of refugees admitted, etc.?” To this, Smyers answers “no”—at least, not using the Trump administration’s methods. While the Administration is authorized to make decisions concerning refugees, Smyers noted that, as of now, the courts ruled that refugees cannot be excluded based on a single trait, as Trump has repeatedly attempted. 

294A2003.JPGThe fact that this Administration supports such exclusion is troubling, Smyers added, because we are living amidst an unprecedentedly severe refugee crisis. Even though the United States maintains a goal number of refugees to admit each year, the Administration has broad discretion over the final number admitted. Smyers urged that in the face of this crisis, we must urge those senators who are supportive of refugees to substantiate their supportive speech by voting to fund refugee resettlement. And congressional support of refugees can be a bipartisan effort—even now, two senators have put forth an oversight letter that are asking some critical questions about how refugees are treated, which Smyers hopes will be circulated on both sides of the aisle.

Smyers urged the audience to remember that Trump’s executive orders are just one part of a large effort to dismantle, defund, and interrupt refugee resettlement. His budget would eliminate emergency funding allocated to address displacement and regional instability. The budget shows, as Smyers puts it, his intention to “take the legs out from under” the refugee-support infrastructure. This motivation can also be found at the state level: several anti-refugee bills have been introduced in state legislatures.

AAI’s 2017 Advocacy Road Map echoes Chen’s and Smyers sentiments, and provides concrete ways that you can get involved, from the federal to the local level, in advocacy for refugee and immigrant communities. The key, as Smyers suggested, is ensuring that at all levels of government, our voices are heard in support of policies that aid refugee relocation.


Sam Leathley is a Spring 2017 Intern with the Arab American Institute.