Multiple executive orders signed by President Donald Trump last week regarding immigration and limiting travel for people from certain countries have left some living and working in Whatcom County with more questions than answers.
An order temporarily limiting travel into the United States by people from seven Muslim-majority countries sparked protests at airports over the weekend, and locally, hundreds took up signs and gathered at Peace Arch Park in Blaine on Sunday afternoon.
Bellingham resident Jesse Stanton, who organized the event, said he was frustrated after reading news reports and learning of people being detained, and invited his friends to gather at the arch with candles. He never had organized a rally before. He said he was surprised when the event quickly grew from his 75 invites to a few thousand, with people quickly assisting with permitting and getting speakers.
“I feel like we have a president now who wants to define America by race and religion,” Stanton said of his reasons for organizing the event. “One of the best ideas of America is that’s not how we define America.”
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Those who gathered at the arch lined the main entrance into the country, and some had signs quoting Emma Lazarus’ poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ...”
The order impacts people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Abtin Bahador is an immigration attorney who lives in Bellingham, and received his permanent resident card, commonly known as a green card, just last week.
Bahador and his family fled Iran in the 1980s to escape persecution as members of the Baha’i faith. Through legal processes, they immigrated to Canada and became naturalized Canadian citizens.
In January 2016, Bahador married a U.S. citizen and started the green card vetting process in July. After answering thorough questions, including about his work history and where he had lived, then waiting for months, Bahador received his green card last week.
“It should have been a relief, because permanent resident status is a pretty strong status in the United States. You’re allowed to live here indefinitely and work wherever you’d like,” he said. “And you should be able to travel in and out of the U.S. pretty unhindered.”
But the interesting thing about the executive order issued Friday was that permanent residents also were included in the denials and questioning happening around the country, he said.
On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security clarified that allowing permanent residents back into the country is in the national interest, though it appears the cases still will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“My sister lives in Canada and my parents actually live in Mexico, and have been there for 20 years now. They own a business there,” Bahador said. “We all met during December in Florida, because I wasn’t allowed to travel during the green card process.”
Now, even though he has his green card, he wonders if he will be able to travel to meet his parents again any time soon.
“Last week my mom called and told me she was thinking of visiting, and I had to tell her we might not be able to see you for the next four years,” Bahador said. “It’s a little surreal, being a citizen of Canada, and to have it be such a hassle to leave. These are the kind of restrictions we left Iran to get away from, and this is unexpected.”
Bahador said his father was in disbelief that the order would apply to him, because they left Iran as refugees, don’t have Iranian passports, and had papers at the time showing they were “stateless.”
“We’re not citizens of Iran,” Bahador said. “We’ve been Canadian for 30 years and yet this new executive order would bar all of us from travel.”
What to do if you might be impacted
Bahador works with Cascadia Cross-Border Law, a Bellingham firm specializing in immigration law.
He and his co-workers, who frequently deal with Canadians who want to work or live in the United States, said that despite assurances from the Canadian immigration minister’s office that Canadians with dual citizenship would not be impacted by the ban, they would not advise people from listed countries to travel without plans in place.
In virtually all cases, they recommended contacting an immigration attorney.
Bahador said he is telling people who are uncertain and already in the U.S. not to travel outside the country, and to contact an immigration attorney if they are concerned.
For those who are traveling, it’s also a good idea to let a friend or relative know and have them ready to contact an attorney if you are detained, said Greg Boos, another immigration attorney at the firm.
“At this time in general, we would advise that any noncitizen, any green card holder, or nonimmigrant visa holder who is abroad, contact a U.S. immigration attorney prior to traveling,” said Heather Fathali, who also works as an attorney at the firm. “I think it’s important for green card holders to know that they are in a status that gives them substantial due process rights.”
There have been reports of Customs and Border Protection pressuring people into signing something called an I-407, Fathali said, which is a form abandoning your lawful permanent resident status.
“You do not have to sign that form” she said. “No one pressured by a border officer should sign anything.”
Scott Railton, another attorney at Cascadia, works with professionals such as doctors who want to come to the U.S. and work, and said his email inbox has been piling up over the weekend with people trying to figure out exactly what is going on. About 25 percent of doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born, he said.
“It seems to be a moving target,” Railton said. “I am concerned for physicians and other high-skilled workers. I’ve been receiving questions as to their ability to either travel to get new visas, and their future eligibility for benefits. There’s a lot of worry out there.”
“I think they rushed the order out too quickly without the vetting they needed to have,” he said. “I do understand trying to follow through with campaign promises, but it’s obviously creating some real issues that are not partisan, really.”
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday morning he was filing a lawsuit in federal court against Trump, the Department of Homeland Security, and high-ranking officials, claiming key provisions of the order should be declared unconstitutional and asking for a temporary restraining order to immediately halt the order nationwide.
On Saturday, a federal judge in New York issued an order preventing the enforcement of the order against people who had already arrived in the U.S., but Ferguson said his suit was intended to fight more aspects of the executive order.
Want to support immigration organizations?
Immigration lawyer Heather Fathali, who works at Cascadia Cross-Border Law, said for those who are looking to support organizations that are directly and actively assisting people affected by the executive order, there are several places the firm would recommend supporting, including:
▪ Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP)
▪ Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
▪ Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
▪ International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)
▪ International Rescue Committee (IRC)
▪ National Immigration Law Center (NILC)
▪ American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)