The controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s recent executive immigration order stems not from the order itself, but from the speed at which it happened, says a University of Kansas law professor.
“[The executive order] was issued on a Friday, and by Saturday morning, without any clear sense of communication — because high level officials said that they heard about it on the news just like I did — already, people were being turned away, and the order was being implemented, so that’s really what’s special,” Lua Kamal Yuille, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, said. “It’s not that immigration benefits to certain countries have been put on hold. It’s not that we’re taking 90 days ... to review the process by which we decide which non-citizens will be allowed in the country and which won’t. Those things aren’t particularly controversial. Obviously, it is controversial that the countries selected are predominantly Muslim countries. Obviously, it is controversial that it’s not a partisan or politically charged statement.”
The order, signed by Trump shortly before 5 p.m. Jan. 27, prevents citizens from seven countries — Iraq, Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria — from coming into the U.S. for 90 days. The order also puts on hold all refugee admissions for 120 days. U.S. citizens are not affected.
“In order to protect Americans, the United States must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward it and its founding principles,” the order reads. “The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law.”
On Tuesday during a news conference, John Kelly, Department of Homeland Security Secretary, said that the order is a “temporary pause,” and “not — I repeat — not a ban on Muslims,” according to National Public Radio.
“The purpose of the order is to make it harder for Islamic terrorists, or people that we believe are Islamic terrorists, to come to the country,” Yuille said. “And therefore, we are targeting Muslims, even though the Constitution doesn’t permit us to directly target Muslims, so we’ve just tried to narrowly choose seven countries that we think Islamic terrorists would come from. That’s controversial, and the constitutionality of that is unclear, but in general, the order is not something unprecedented.
“It’s not this crazy action on the part of the president. It’s the speed at which it has occurred, which prevents a careful analysis of whether or not this is wholly lawful, and whether or not it makes sense and is really in the national interest. I think that, at home, that’s what we need to understand. We didn’t have time, I, myself, haven’t had all of the time I would want to really determine the legality and then the right-headedness of the act. “
Yuille has been a part of the KU Law faculty since 2003, and teaches courses on immigration, business associations, corporate governance and property, according to her biography on the university’s website. She gave the Herald a quick breakdown of what exactly the executive order means.
“We’re not issuing any visas, and we’re also not providing any other benefits through immigration law to individuals from the listed countries,” she said. “Now, what are immigration benefits? That is entrance to the country. That would be becoming a permanent resident, that would be getting permission to work in the United States.”
The way that the order “flared up in people’s faces,” Yuille explained, was the fact that almost immediately after the order was signed, these people were being turned away at the border.
“Because, for example, if you’ve submitted your paperwork, and you’re just waiting for a letter from the government saying ‘yea’ or ‘nay,’ basically what the executive order says is that letter’s not going to be issued — not that the letter will be denied or not that the application will be denied, but it will not be issued during this period,” she said. “And so what is really salient and what is really important is that the suspension of immigration benefits includes being allowed into the country.”
If the president issues an executive order, he can decide the speed at which it goes into effect, Yuille continued.
“What normally happens before the executive order is signed is that there’s clear consultation with all of the stakeholders and all of the people who will be charged with implementing this,” she said. “And then the reason it takes time after the executive order is implemented is ... the idea is that the individuals who are being charged with responsibility are then going to go and look at it. Normally, what happens is that there’s time building up to issuing the executive order, and then there’s time afterwards.”
According to an interview by National Public Radio with William Stock with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Customs and Border Protection wasn’t even prepared for the change.
“CBP unfortunately was really caught completely by surprise by this order, and really the biggest problems were that they didn’t know how to implement it in the first two days,” Stock said in the interview.
The transition happened quickly and “quickly on purpose,” Yuille said. From a legal perspective, she said fully testing the legality of each provision was impossible with the time frame given.
“From a political perspective, people out on streets are concerned about the fact that, ‘Hey, if you were going to take this action’ — which most of the protesters would have probably disagreed with anyway — ‘I wouldn’t have gone on a plane. I would’ve figured out what to do instead of finding myself stranded or detained.’ Immigration detention is really traumatic, even if you’re delayed in the airport for 10 hours, or five hours or two hours. It’s purposely designed to be a tense and scary experience, and so there were people who would have chosen not to travel and who would have protested the immigration order in different ways, including people who were eventually released into the country.”
Last semester, Yuille taught a class titled Immigration Law. One of her last assignments was speaking about the legalities of some of the things soon-to-be president-elect Trump at the time had claimed on immigration.
“Almost, without fail, students came to recognize that most of the things looked like they would and could be lawful, but they also concluded that they didn’t think that most of the things were feasible or would meaningfully be enacted,” Yuille said. “What surprised me [about the executive order] was the speed, the scope and the total implementation of something that second and third year law students really wanted to better understand the economic, financial, fiscal and political feasibility of.”
As a lawyer, she said she would advise not only individuals from the seven countries listed in the order, but also anyone from other predominantly Muslim countries who are not U.S. citizens, including international college students, not to travel.
“Our students may not be able to do all of the things they need to do for their studies,” Yuille said. “We pride ourselves on sending our students to travel and so there’s a rather immediate and real level of paralysis on a macro level, but also a level for specific individuals who can’t be certain that if they travel, they’ll be able to come back to the country.
“That could have professional consequences, private life consequences ... All of the nation’s universities are concerned, and so if you’re at home and you’re not planning to travel, what this is primarily is anxiety-inducing, but if you have a need to move, it’s practical and immediate paralysis.”
A significant population of international students in the U.S. are funded by their own government and by home institutions, according to Yuille.
“Universities [in the U.S.] today rely heavily for some of their programming on a robust body of these students, who, frankly, pay full tuition,” she said.
These individuals contribute “to the vibrancy of our intellectual communities, contribute to discoveries in science [and] contribute to theoretical advancements in all sorts of fields.” In addition, they are revenue streams for universities, specifically public universities, which could see an impact on their educational communities, Yuille said.
Bernadette Gray-Little, chancellor at KU, issued a statement Sunday in response to the order, urging national students from the affected countries, not to travel.
“This includes passport holders, citizens, nationals, and dual nationals from the impacted countries,” she wrote. “As a flagship research university, KU is committed to the open exchange of students, scholars and ideas from across the world. Moreover, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of KU students, faculty and staff who may be affected by the new federal restrictions on immigration. For these reasons, we will work with our colleagues throughout higher education to raise these concerns to policymakers.”
Prior to the executive order, entrance for immigrants into the U.S. was already complicated, slow-making and difficult, Yuille said. A comprehensive immigration reform has not been possible since the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
“If you just read on paper the things that allow you to come to the United States as a visitor or as an immigrant, a permanent resident, it’s not that hard,” Yuille said. “You have a mom, you have a brother, you have a spouse that lives in the United States.”
But it’s not that easy, she said.
“It turns out that on the ground, it’s a long and arduous and expensive process to get a visa,” Yuille said. “At several stages in the game, you are, with the exception of some tourists who are coming for a really short period of time, you are subject to very rigorous testing. If you’re coming to live in the United States, you are checked by the United States intelligence ... You are subject to biometrics screening, so we take your fingerprints, and we figure out if your fingerprints match anybody that we’re looking for, anybody who’s already been in the United States. I know stories of individuals who were not granted visas to the United States because their estranged sibling happened to have their visa interview on the same day, and they didn’t disclose it because they were estranged, and so they didn’t know.”
The slightest inconsistency or concern can delay and eventually defeat a visa application, Yuille said.
“It’s not easy to come to the United States,” she said.
Susan Welte is a Herald staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.