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New immigration order fails to mollify MN critics

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Demonstrators march in support of immigrant and refugee rights.
Demonstrators march in support of immigrant and refugee rights as part of the "Caravan of Love" march in Minneapolis on Feb. 11, 2017.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Immigration attorneys in Minnesota say President Trump's new travel ban continues to discriminate against Muslims and will separate some American citizens from their loved ones indefinitely.

Attorney Kara Lynum of St. Paul has a Somali-American client who has been working for more than a year and half to secure visas for his three children in Kenya. His boys range in age from 10 to 16. His plans are now on hold, she said.

"People's lives are being completely disrupted by this," she said. "And they shouldn't be used as political pawns for campaign promises."

Lynum reviewed the revised executive order and said the travel ban isn't about protecting the nation from foreign terrorists, as the order is titled.

Immigration attorney Kara Lynum
Immigration attorney Kara Lynum, of Lynum Law in St. Paul, Minn., in her office on March 6, 2017.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News

"They're just blanket-banning these six countries," she said. 

"It's not based on individualized decisions, about each traveler. It's just based on where you were born or where you're a national of. And to me, that's discrimination at its very core."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this order seeks to protect the American people, as well as lawful immigrants, by putting in place an enhanced screening and vetting process for visitors from Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Somalia. During a press conference, he said three of those nations are state sponsors of terrorism.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.,  dismissed that notion. In a statement released shortly after the order was signed, he said: "Let's not kid ourselves, the new Muslim ban is still a Muslim ban. Yes, it's lawyered up a bit, but that's all."

"Just like the previous Executive Order, this new order seeks to ban people from entering our country because of their religion. Plain and simple."

The new immigration order removes the permanent ban on Syrians and permits those with already approved visas that have not yet expired to travel. The Homeland Security secretary, John F. Kelly, said travelers from these affected countries with a current valid visa are welcome.

But Regina Jefferies, a clinical teaching fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School, said the language of the new executive order means continued confusion at airports, as well as harassment.

"There's been a significant increase of reports of people being questioned about their religion, about their social media activity, things like that," she said. "So I think what we've seen since the first order went into effect is really just an increase in scrutiny for individuals who ... identify as Muslim or who come from a majority Muslim country."

Jefferies has been organizing dozens of volunteer attorneys to assist international travelers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport since the first travel ban was announced in late January.

"The executive orders are imposing these new regulations and restrictions on travelers without going through the proper legal process," she said. "The idea that the executive would impose these ... sort of made-up standards without going through the legal process is extremely problematic."

The new executive order also caps the number of refugees at 50,000 for fiscal year 2017. Ben Walen, the director of refugees at the Minnesota Council of Churches, said this isn't good for the state or the nation.

"People are in refugee camps with limited hope, limited opportunities, in survival mode and we are not extending our welcome to them," he said. Far from being a threat, he said, refugees "are coming out of situations where they themselves are victims of terrorism, victims of persecution, of political violence. They can't go back home."