Tuesday, June 27, 2017

WIRAC Sues Administration for Withholding Records in “Backdoor Muslim Ban”

On June 27, 2017, the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Connecticut (CAIR-CT) and Make the Road New York (MRNY) sued the Trump administration for withholding critical information concerning its continued profiling of Muslims and other marginalized groups, on an informal basis, with respect to visa processing and immigration enforcement. CAIR-CT and MRNY are represented by the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) at Yale Law School, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). WIRAC, NILC, and IRAP, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

The organizations filed suit in federal district court in Connecticut after the Trump administration failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the records within the time limit required by federal law.

The legal groups representing CAIR-CT and MRNYalso served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Darweesh v. Trump, the first lawsuit filed in response to President Trump’s original travel ban, and the first to win a nationwide stay protecting immigrants at U.S. airports from being removed.

CAIR-CT and MRNY have called the government’s controversial executive order a “Backdoor Muslim Ban.”

“In the wake of the president’s blatantly Islamophobic and anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, and the first two failed Muslim Bans, the American people have a right to know whether the government is discriminating against Muslims or other groups,” said Farhan Memon, Chairperson of CAIR-CT. “The Trump administration apparently disagrees, so we’ll see them in court.”

After courts around the country blocked the president’s two travel ban executive orders, reports of continued profiling suggest that the Trump administration has informally instituted a set of policies and practices that aim to achieve the same goal of denying entry to Muslims and marginalized groups. As a result, on April 12, 2017, CAIR-CT and MRNY submitted FOIA requests to the U.S. Department of State (DOS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). (The requests are available for download: DOS, USCIS, CBP.) The organizations requested policies, communications, and statistics concerning the adjudication of entry document applications, including visa and refugee applications, and screenings of arriving individuals at U.S. ports of entry and abroad. As of June 27, 2017 none of the agencies have provided any of the requested records, as required by law.

The lawsuit comes one day after the Supreme Court announced it would hear challenges to the second travel ban executive order later this fall. The Supreme Court also largely upheld lower court orders blocking the second travel ban executive order from going into effect pending resolution of the case. The fact that the executive order remains mostly blocked by court order highlights the need for the Trump administration to release information about its actual enforcement practices while the executive order remains enjoined, the clinic said.

“We’ve heard disturbing reports of discrimination at airports and within the Trump Administration, despite the fact that the two travel bans have been repeatedly blocked in the courts,” said Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of MRNY. “This is no surprise given the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Latino sentiments expressed by the president and his advisors. The public deserves to know the extent to which this animus has resulted in actions that hurt people.”

IRAP’s director, Becca Heller, said, “People with valid visas are being detained and deported from U.S. airports every day. Others are having visas revoked before they can even board, for no apparent reason.  The government cannot create a de facto travel ban through rampant abuses of discretion in individual cases. They cannot discriminate in the dark.”

IRAP, WIRAC, and NILC have set up an email hotline, [email protected], for individuals who may have experienced discrimination or mistreatment while applying to enter or entering the United States.

“Even this stunningly non-transparent administration can’t silence those who have been profiled or wronged by discriminatory immigration policies,” said Joseph Meyers ’18, law student intern with WIRAC. “We urge anyone affected to contact our legal team and share their stories.”

“Sunlight is often the best disinfectant,” said Esther Sung, staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. “The Trump administration may not like it, but our FOIA laws are clear: The American public has a right to know how Trump officials are treating our Muslim community members and other individuals trying to visit or emigrate to the United States.”