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President Trump’s Executive Order Harms the U.S. & Refugees

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I have worked with refugees and asylum seekers since 1991. I cannot even tell you how many I have had the privilege to represent, and I believe that I have only encountered two cases of fraud in more than 20 years. I have never encountered even a single client with any links to terrorism. The refugees and asylum seekers who I have met have been fleeing for their lives – sometimes from terrorists.

The Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” signed on January 27, 2017 overreaches executive branch powers (under the plenary power doctrine, immigration policy is shared between the legislative and executive). Moreover, aspects of the order are both unconstitutional and violate United States’ international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention (which we ratified in 1980). This comes at a time when there are more forcibly displaced people (65+ million) than ever before in human history.

The Executive Order violates the United States Constitution and the nation’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention to ensure that:
  1. Refugees not returned to a place where they will be persecuted (non-refoulement);
  2. There is an individualized determination of persecution on account of one of five grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion), NOT just religion; and
  3. Refugees are not discriminated against.

Here are some specific reasons why the Executive Order is bad policy and should not be enforced:

1. Suspends U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs (USRAP).

  • The order suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days.  Refugees are perhaps the most thoroughly vetted individuals who enter the United States. Refugee processing often takes up to 36 months and includes background checks, biometrics, and interviews with several federal agencies. I have met many people stuck in limbo in refugee camps, waiting to be cleared to join immediate family members in the United States.  Even following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, refugee admissions were suspended for less than three months.
  • It does not appear that clear instructions regarding implementation were conveyed to the Border & Customs Protection — those who had to enforce the order this weekend — leading to chaos and lawsuits. Under the order, exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis for national interest, if the person does not pose a risk and is a religious minority facing religious persecution OR diplomats OR if the person is already in transit and denying admission would cause a hardship.
  • The order reduces the number of refugee admissions by more than half, to 50,000. The President, in consultation with Congress, sets each year the refugee admission number. In fact, during President Obama’s administration, the United States had dropped historically low in the numbers of refugees resettled. The goal this fiscal year was to admit 110,000 refugees. The government’s fiscal year began October 1, and we have already admitted 29,895 as of January 20, 2017. Under this new Executive Order, we will admit only about 20,000 additional refugees before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. That means that 60,000 refugees who have already been vetted will remain in life and death situations.
  • Once resumed, the United States will prioritize the religious persecution claims of minority religious groups.  Purportedly, this is to prioritize the claims of persecution of Christian minorities, but Muslims are also a persecuted minority in some countries. What does this mean for them?
  • The order suspending the United States Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days directs Department of Homeland Security to determine how state and local jurisdictions can have greater involvement in determining placement resettlement in their district. This will allow states and cities unprecedented authority to determine whether they will resettle any Muslim refugees. Bills have already been introduced in states such as North Dakota and South Dakota to ban all resettlement unless approved by the state legislatures.

2. Bans Syrian Refugees
The order halts the processing and admission of all Syrian refugees. Indefinitely. One of the worst human rights crises on the planet is happening in Syria. Over the past few years, millions of people have fled from both the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad (supported by Russian airstrikes) and ISIS. The United States finally stepped up last year and accepted 10,000 refugees —  far, far less than most Western countries. To date, the majority of refugees resettled from Syria to the United States have been women and children. 

3. Bans Entry of Nationals of Muslim Majority Countries
Both non-immigrant (tourist, student, etc.) and immigrant (including legal permanent residents, at least for the initial roll-out of the order) from seven countries (some friends, some foe) — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — are banned from entry for at least 90 days. (The order also notes that other countries and immigration benefits may be added to the banned list.) Courts have already temporarily blocked the implementation of part of this order based on the First Amendment Establishment clause (which prohibits the government from preferring or disfavoring a religion) and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause. But part of the order also calls for the exclusion of individuals who “would place violent ideologies over American law” or “who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred, including persecution of those who practice religions different for their own.” That is incredibly vague and potentially discriminatory.  Moreover, there has been enhanced screening for everyone coming from countries with high levels of terrorism since 9/11.

4. Requires In-Person Interviews for All
The order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP), primarily used for people who had been vetted, were considered a low-security risk, and were on renewable employment-based visas. The requirement for in-person interviews for non-immigrant visa applications will create huge backlogs at embassies and consulates and slow down the process for anyone applying for a visa (including family members of legal immigrants, asylees, and refugees). Many of The Advocates for Human Rights’ asylum clients come to the United States on visitor or student visas; this processing backlog will prevent these people the ability to escape persecution in their countries, leaving them vulnerable and unsafe.

5. Screens ALL for Immigration Benefits
This is policy by fiat, going beyond congressional authority. While screening standards are already in place for identifying fraud, etc., the Executive Order directs agencies to create a process to evaluate the person’s “likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society” and “ability to make contributions to the national interest.” These are entirely new and subjective standards, and it is not clear how anyone could implement them. They are NOT statutory requirements for any immigration benefit (except a national interest visa).

This Executive Order is public policy based on myth. It is not what is best for our country. Every Department of Homeland Security professional that I have ever met has said that the problem is lack of resources rather than the need for new laws or regulations. Every refugee I know is a true American patriot, one who tears up when saluting the flag because they know the true price of freedom.
Educate yourself. Call your congressional, state, and local representatives. Volunteer to help refugees and asylum seekers in your hometown. Provide a safe haven for those who are forced to flee persecution is a core American value.
This Executive Order will not make us safe. Instead, it will erode the United States’ moral standing as leader of the free world.
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By Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director, The Advocates for Human Rights.

Marching for a bridge forward

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Living halfway across the country from one another, Erin Banovetz Lake and Nick Banovetz are like many siblings and families: The geographical distance that divides them presents its challenges – like their children not seeing each other as much as they’d like or not always celebrating holidays together – but they find ways to stay connected. Participating in the Women’s March on January 21 was something they shared, even if from cities afar. Here are a few reflections from them.

From Erin Banovetz Lake, Washington, D.C. (pictured above on right)
Prior to the march, I was disheartened by the status of human rights and equality held by some of the members of this great country. I am a white, middle class, 30-something female. I consider myself very fortunate in life. My upbringing was safe, secure, and predictable. I was well taken care of, both physically and emotionally.

I have spent my career working with and endeavoring to help troubled and marginalized youth in one of Virginia’s poorest counties. I see first hand some of the hardships others have to endure in life. This exposure has increased my level of understanding about challenges people face as well as my cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Recently, it has become evident that many, especially elected officials, do not possess this same awareness – the awareness of how important human rights and equality are to the survival of a community, of a country. Is it a willful ignorance? A lack of emotional intelligence and exposure to different cultures and populations? Or a lack of sensitivity and an overwhelming need to further oneself over the good of the community? It is with this awareness that I chose to participate in the January 21 March on Washington, hoping to demonstrate how important these issues are for the people of our nation.

Stepping onto the streets of our capital immediately gave me a sense of hope. Actually, it began when I picked up my mom and two of her best friends from the Richmond, Virginia airport the night before the march. The excitement we had in the anticipation of standing together with others who shared these values was evident from the beginning.

This hope continued as we boarded the bus that would take us to DC. While a commercial express bus, it was a “March on Washington bus” nonetheless because it was crammed with riders donning pink pussy-cat hats and discussing social issues and human rights with one another.

The march was peaceful. Not one arrest. Everybody we encountered throughout the day was kind, thoughtful, and had a light in their eyes. There was a strong sense of camaraderie. Stepping off the bus onto the street that day was energetic, like stepping into a pink pussy-cat hat/poster-carrying human rights parade. The number of people there was mind blowing, awe inspiring, and heart warming. The feeling in the air was one of a grass roots effort filled with hope and an excitement to finally be heard.

And heard we were. Along with the hundreds of other sister marches across the nation and globe, we raised our voices. The collective energy and voice showed us that we are stronger together. I live in a conservative part of Virginia, and just the sheer fact of being surrounded by people who value human rights and equality lifted me up. Knowing that there are so many others out there who share similar values, thoughts, hopes, and fears empowers me. (My experience is mirrored by millions of other marchers across the world. Is it strange how the overarching tone and feeling at these marches was energetic and a demand for acceptance? Independently, the hundreds of marches on each of the seven continents conveyed peace, acceptance, and a demand to be heard.)

The people I stood beside were there not solely to promote women’s issues. Rather, they promoted human rights for all. Those in attendance were of all ages, skin color, cultural background, religion, and from all walks of life. But in the message, we all shared a common belief in the necessity of human rights and equality.

Soon, my children will both be in school and I will return to the workforce. I already had plans to use my career as a conduit to channel my values. My march experience will serve as a catalyst to my vision of helping to create a stronger, healthier community for all. Thank you to the organizers of the march. It is through your hard work, determination, and vision that people of our world have stood together to make a statement. If we maintain this momentum, the people of this beautiful nation and around the globe will reap the benefits.

From Nick Banovetz, St. Paul, Minnesota (pictured below, right)
nickOn Election Day 2016, I left the polls telling my daughter – a 1.5-year-old strapped to my back  – “Thanks for helping Dada vote.” It was the first time I had cast a ballot with a child of my own. I relished participating in this part of our democracy; bringing my daughter with me – like my parents did with me – was memorable.

For many, the 2016 election has disrupted our communities and our own senses of self. The elevated and prolonged discourse surrounding systemic racism, income disparities, sexism, and immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign and election will hopefully result in the long term in a more prosperous, inclusive nation. The adage “Democracy is a not a spectator sport” is a rallying cry and a call to unite, regardless of one’s political leanings.

To stretch our lungs and lead by example, my dad, my wife, and I – with our daughter strapped in her stroller – participated in the Women’s March in St. Paul. Our experience was like thousands, millions, of others – a rush of adrenaline over the sheer mass of the crowds, a healing experience from the positive and inclusive vibes permeating these open, crowded spaces.

I felt part of a community again. And as a newish dad, I’ve been reflecting. I keep coming back to my grandmothers, partly because of the obvious (their gender, their generation), but also because of subtle lessons they taught me.

Several years ago, on my Grandma Ilona’s birthday, my wife solicited words of wisdom from her. Without any hesitation, Ilona said resolutely, “All people are people.” These words are simple, yet relevant. I think of them often. Ilona was a life-long learner, never short of an opinion. She cherished her time in college, which I believe fueled her confidence. When someone was full of bologna, Ilona would throw her hand out, slap the air, shake her head, and say, “Oh, honestly!” I’ve envisioned her doing such dozens of times as of late. There’s something to be said about keeping it real, being authentic, and offering a polite reality check when others aren’t.

My other grandma, Vi, read the St. Paul Pioneer Press every a.m. – from poring over the front page to completing the crossword puzzle. Those who knew her saw a witty – even sassy – woman who found some of her own independence by working outside of the home and belonging to her social service club. I visited her often. Over breakfast we’d study the newspaper together. She taught me to be informed. And Grandma Vi was empowered because she was well informed. (Vi, in jest, would often remark on First Lady Hillary Clinton, saying with hope in her voice, “Who does she think she is, President?” One time she looked up and said something to the effect of “Imagine that”; the exact words escape me, but it was her disbelief and wonder over a female leading our nation that I remember.)

My hope for our nation is that people from all sides can engage with one another outside of social media platforms, choose to arrive at opinions that are both diverse and well-informed. We each need to appreciate that all people are people.

By Erin Lake Banovetz, Dillwyn, Virginia; and Nick Banovetz, Mendota Heights, Minnesota. They are the daughter and son of The Advocates’ Communications Director, Sue Banovetz.

“I can march.”

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This was my first march. I really did not know what to expect. I spent the evening before the march sitting on the basement floor in our house with my sister and our friends painting posters. When we finally got to the march – which was no easy feat because the DC Metro was so overwhelmed with numbers of people, we had to walk – the sheer number of people prevented us from getting close enough to hear any of the speeches. We could not even see the Jumbotrons. I had to wait until I got home to learn what some of the speakers, including people like Gloria Steinem, had to say.

What I did hear and see, however, were the voices and actions of people engaged in peaceful protest. Even in the midst of the crush, people were friendly and civil. The energy was palpable. From the looks of it, people were at this march, born at the grass roots, for many different reasons. Some were there to protest the new administration. Others were there to ensure that their voices were heard on a variety of themes, including reproductive rights, gender equality, immigration, racial equality, and climate change. Homemade signs were everywhere.  Frequent chants included:  “My body/my choice!”;  “This is what democracy looks like!”; and “Women’s rights are human rights!”

What I saw on the ground was inspiring, and what I saw on my social media feeds inspired me, too. My Facebook and Instagram pages had hundreds of pictures of my “sisters” in different parts of the country marching in their hometowns. Even if we might have been at the marches for different reasons  and in different locations, we were connected and empowered.

I know that the march has been controversial at some levels – even in my high school.  Some question how the march can be successful – as there was not a singular focus. However, I did see a common focus: the need for respect.

Last week in my 10th grade European history course, we focused on the French Revolution.  One of the things I learned about was the “march” of October 1789 when more than 7,000 women marched from Paris to Versailles protesting the scarcity and high prices of bread.  They had a goal of bringing King  Louis XVI back to Paris so that he would be closer and arguably more responsive to the people. They succeeded! The crowd, numbering more than 60,000 people, escorted the royal family back to Paris. Some say that this was a major turning point in the French Revolution.

I don’t know if Saturday was a major turning point. But it was an important reminder of the power people have when they work together. It was also a reminder of the powerful voice women have and the importance of exercising it. When the marchers return to their homes, I hope they remember that the march is not a substitute for long- term action. It’s just the beginning; they need to take action in their local communities. Whether that action is calling their legislators or running for office themselves, it is important.

I am excited to see where this takes us – and I am grateful to the women who organized this march for exposing me to the possibilities of collective action.

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman (pictured on left in photo above), a 10th grade student in Washington, D.C.

Targeting immigrant and refugee communities violates human rights, American values

The-AdvocatesNEWS RELEASE

January 25, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Targeting immigrant and refugee communities violates human rights, American values 

The Advocates for Human Rights responds to White House executive orders on immigration  

Minneapolis, MN (January 25, 2017) — Today’s White House announcement of executive orders on immigration undermine fundamental human rights and put refugee and immigrant communities at risk.

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply troubled by today’s orders and by orders expected to be signed later this week aimed at Muslim refugees and immigrants.

“The executive actions take aim at our immigrant and refugee communities,” says Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. “This is discrimination. Targeting people because of who they are or what they believe, not what they have done, violates the most fundamental principles of human rights and undermines the values of the United States’ Constitution.”

Today’s action by the White House continues policies of mandatory detention and prosecution of asylum seekers, punishes cities for protecting due process and prioritizing community safety over immigration politics, and dramatically expands federal immigration enforcement agencies. Tomorrow’s executive order is expected to suspend the refugee resettlement program, cut FY2017 refugee admissions to 50,000, temporarily block entry of people from many Muslim countries, and fundamentally alter the visa issuance process.

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Contact:

Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director and Director of Advocacy
The Advocates for Human Rights
Desk: 612-746-4685
Cell: 612-360-3818
Email: mmckenzie@advrights.org

About The Advocates for Human Rights

For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has promoted and protected human rights here at home and around the world. The non-profit organization, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, documents human rights abuses, advocates on behalf of individual victims, provides free legal representation to people seeking asylum, works to prevent violence against women and girls, spearheads public policy and legal change, educates about human rights issues, and provides training and technical assistance to address and prevent human rights violations.