by Robert Landicho, Associate, Vinson & Elkins LLP and ACS Houston Lawyer Chapter Board Member; Peggy Li, Associate Director of Student Chapters, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy; Melissa Freeling, Volunteer, International Refugee Assistance, Project Berkeley Law Chapter and 2019 J.D. Candidate, University of California, Berkeley School of Law.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27th, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order barring entry for all refugees to the United States for 120 days, suspending entry for Syrian refugees indefinitely and banning all visa holders from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days.
This ban faces challenges under due process, equal protection, international law, and immigration law (see the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed against Trump, DHS, and Customs and Border Protection); and damages the United States’ already declining reputation in the region. But more fundamentally, Trump’s executive order irresponsibly endangers families that are legitimately seeking (or have already been granted) refuge from conflict or persecution. When families apply for refugee status, they are already thoroughly vetted through a series of interviews involving USCIS, the FBI, DHS, DOD and other government agencies, which can take years to complete. Not only is the premise of the executive order not grounded in facts or reality (i.e., there is no evidence that the executive order will succeed in achieving its stated aims)—this overbroad and unnecessary action completely disregards the many lives it irrevocably alters.
By enforcing this executive order, we are leaving behind the many Iraqi families who risked their lives assisting U.S. military forces. Khalid and Wisam Al-Baidhani are two brothers who served as interpreters for the U.S. military and accompanied their units on dangerous patrols. Because of the family’s alignment with the U.S. military, the Al-Baidhani family suffered severe consequences. When U.S. troops departed Iraq, the Shiite Jaish Mahdi militia shot Khalid in the face and arm. Wisam received a bullet with a note promising Wisam he would be killed if he did not cease working for the Coalition Forces. Khalid and Wisam’s uncle had been killed for his work as an interpreter for the United States and Mohammed, their father, survived a subsequent terrorist bombing.
Under a special immigrant visa (SIV) and a Priority 2 (P-2) visa, Khalid and Wisam were able to resettle in the United States. But the brothers’ family members in Iraq remain stranded, and are constantly under threat as a result of their work with the U.S. military. Mohammed continues to receive death threats to him and his family. He fears that local Jaish al-Mahdi militiamen will kidnap his younger sons. This debilitating fear has kept Mohammed’s four remaining children from completing school, finding work or continuing anything resembling a “normal” life.
Mohammed and the family applied for resettlement to the U.S. under the P-2 program in 2011. After five years of “vetting” and continued security checks, the family was informed in August 2016 that they were cleared to resettle to the United States on Aug. 31, 2016. Mohammed sold his home and car and prepared his family for their new life in America. On the eve of their departure, Mohammed received a call from the U.S. embassy informing the family that their airline tickets had been canceled and that they were required to “stay in place until further notice" due to a “new security check.” In November, shortly after the election of President Trump, the Al-Baidhaini family was notified that their resettlement visa had been denied. The letter vaguely noted that they were ineligible for resettlement for “Other Reasons” stating that “[his] application for refugee resettlement in the United States . . . has been denied as a matter of discretion for security-related reasons.” The Berkeley Law Chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project, who successfully assisted Wisam with his visa, is now scrambling to apply for a Request for Reconsideration for the family. The family is currently homeless and seeking shelter with relatives in Iraq.
In light of President Trump’s new executive order, the family’s prospects of resettlement are very bleak. As a consequence of helping our U.S. military forces during the U.S. invasion and military operations in Iraq, the Al-Baidhani family has faced a decade’s worth of death threats, instability and fear and continues to live in this state of limbo. President Trump’s executive order blindly shuts out vulnerable peoples from seven predominantly Muslim countries like Iraq, including many who seek that refuge due to their work with the United States. This unconstitutional fiat declaration offends the most basic understanding of justice and decency—and the administration should be ashamed.
*Picture L-R: Wisam, Sgt. Peter Farley, and another interpreter who worked with the US Army.
**This piece reflects the views of its authors and does not represent the views of their law firms, including Vinson & Elkins LLP.