This past weekend, the nation was drawn into a firestorm of controversy over President Trump's divisive executive order titled "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States." The order, which went into effect immediately last Friday, instructed the Department of Homeland Security to suspend the admission and issuance of visas from nationals of seven designated countries putatively associated with terrorism risks, which opponents have characterized as a weakly veiled ban on Muslims. Apparently, due to the swiftness with which the resolution was passed, the agency charged with inspecting and admitting alien visitors-Customs and Border Protection (CBP)-was itself caught off guard. Not surprisingly, the implementation of the order caused a lot of legal snafus including the detention of refugees whose visas were already approved and who were already in transit to the US. Additionally, permanent residents or "green card" holders who were from those seven designated states were reportedly not admitted to the US or according to some, not even allowed to board planes to return to the US.
The situation has obviously created a lot of confusion and alarm, especially amongst lawful permanent residents who are already outside the US or those who may be planning to depart the US for temporary travel. Unfortunately, this is a very mercurial state of affairs. Several lawsuits are pending, and while some courts have granted emergency stays, the decisions are not the final word on the matter and only apply to certain segments of the populations affected by the order. By and large, the executive order is still in effect and being applied by the government.
Is it safe to travel if I have a green card?
It is important to understand that the intent of this article is not provide legal advice. It is general information only and not intended to substitute for legal advice. In terms of our office, we have generally been advising clients who are permanent residents of the US but natonals from one of those seven countries not to travel. Prior to the public outcry, it was reported that permanent residents were being denied entry and in some cases, pressured into signing form I-407, which essentially indicates the individual's intent to abandon or give up his/her green card. DHS later clarified on Sunday that while the order still applies to permanent residents (in addition to non-immigrants), lawful permanent residents would generally be deemed to qualify for the "national interest" exception to the ban. Therefore, absent "significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare," green card holders should be admitted. However, this still means that a permanent resident may, under certain conditions, be barred. That being said, the inspection process is likely to involve CBP vetting and scrutiny on steroids, so to speak. What exactly constitutes "derogatory information" and what type of conduct or information is enough to pose a "serious threat" when a significant part of the populace is already fearful? There is just too much uncertainty over the matter to be taking risks, especially for non-essential trips, when policies can suddenly change and officers are still unclear as to how to carry out instructions.
Even if a lawful permanent resident is not from one of the seven countries but planning on international travel, careful consideration should be taken. The way things are going, the Trump Administration is not showing any signs of relenting. If anything, it appears that President Trump is attempting to deliver on his campaign promises. It is certainly possible that the order may be expanded to include more countries beyond the initial seven, and that could happen on a moment's notice when an affected individual is already outside the United States.