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N.H. Lawmaker Urges Patience on Immigration Order But Bedford Man's Family Has Run Out of Time

Jonas Bengtsson via Flickr/CC

UPDATE: Reza Jalili was reunited with his brother, after a federal judge halted President Trump's executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. Read the Union Leader story about their reunion

For Republican Representative Fred Doucette, President Trump's recent order on immigration should not have surprised anyone, given his campaign promises. And Doucette, who co-chaired Trump's N.H. campaign, believes the payoff will eventually be enhanced security for Americans, despite the widespread outcry.  

"I think there is going to be a learning process, a little bump in the road, a little inconvenience for a number of individuals, but, short of that, I don’t see a big issue," he said.

Doucette joined The Exchange this week to discuss the immigration order, which includes a temporary halt to the refugee program and severely restricts immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Doucette said he would have added Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to that list. Syrian refugees are barred indefinitely. 

Reza Jalili is originally from one of those seven countries -- Iran. He came to the United States in 1975 and is a U.S. Citizen. Jalili, a professor of economics at New England College, has been working to bring his brother to the U.S. from Iran for many years.  After undergoing interviews with the FBI, Homeland Security, and the U.S. State Department, Jalili's brother, a doctor, was ready to fly to the U.S. with his family on January 29.  But those plans came to a halt as a result of Trump's order.

"The sad part is he was telling me over and over that he should come before the new administration comes. I said, No, the United States is governed by laws and nobody can take away your rights. This is your right.  But now, all I have to say is that I’m embarrassed because I told him things that apparently were not true."

Although the ban expires in 90 days, Jalili says his brother's Visa will have expired by then. "So, he's going to lose everything.'

Meanwhile, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found 31 % of people said the ban made them feel “more safe,” while 26 % said it made them feel “less safe;” 33% did not expect it to make any difference, with the remaining saying they don’t know what to expect.   

A letter of dissent, with 1,000 signatures as of today, has been circulating among State Department officials who insist that temporarily barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries will not make the U.S. safe. 

The Constitution and Immigration

It turns out, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say much about immigration, according to Erin Corcoran, professor of law at UNH School of Law.  Corcoran specializes in immigration law.

“There are a couple of different clauses like the naturalization clause and the migration and importation clause, but generally the courts have held that piecing together different clauses within the Constitution gives both Congress and the Executive branch plenary power over immigration. The political branches get to decide who gets to come and who gets to stay. And the Courts generally leave those decisions up to them.”

That said, Courts do step in from time to time, and their decisions are binding on Congress and the Executive branch, Corcoran said.  Several judges have issued rulings suspending aspects of Trump’s orders. And there are more legal actions underway as groups continue to rally against the bans.

Presidential Power and Immigration

“The president has a lot of latitude, broad discretion, to decide who can come and who can stay,” Corcoran said.  “In addition to Congress giving him the authority, he also has authority inherent in the executive. And we’ve seen several administrations over time exercise both the statutory authority and the executive authority over immigration.”

Still, although other presidents have issued orders on immigration, President Trump's recent executive orders addressing who can and can't come into the United States departed from prior presidential actions in a few ways, Corcoran said. 

Trump’s order was particularly broad and also apparently issued without much consultation with affected agencies.  That contributed to a good deal of confusion – for instance, over whether those with green cards would be allowed entry to the U.S. The Administration reversed itself on that issue, confirming that green-card holders would be allowed in.

Vetting Refugees

For Trump supporters such as Doucette, the President's immigration order is a move toward fulfilling his promise to institute “extreme vetting” in the interest of national security.  

From what I understand this is a temporary ban while we look into, and shore up, our vetting policies with regards to these nations. Not permanent. This “end of the world” reaction is merely politics. Other presidents have made similar (not identical) orders in the past. Nobody said boo when President Obama temporarily banned a limited amount of Visas from Iraq in 2011 for six months. Are we going to protest EVERY thing the new President does for the next four years? I for one am getting weary of it already. He’s just trying to keep us safe. – Exchange Listener, Rob.

According to Corcoran, refugees are already closely vetted. “If you wanted to find the path of least resistance to get into the United States, it would not be through the refugee resettlement program.”

As for changes under Trump, she said: “It may be there are going to be more personal interviews, more investigations into family backgrounds.  There are lots of ways in which – in addition to people’s biometrics being run through a database – people can be deployed to interview families on the ground to see if there are terrorist ties.  It would be incredibly cumbersome and costly but it could be akin to somebody going through a security clearance here in the United States.”

An Affront to Iraqis?

Muhammed from Concord called The Exchange, upset that Iraq had been included in the temporary ban – and not Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  He said he had worked with the American army in Iraq for three years. 

“In Iraq, we work together with Americans fighting ISIS in Iraq now. The Iraqis help Americans to push ISIS out of Iraq. I think that’s not fair.  How about the people now in Iraq who are stuck?”  

A Call for Patience

Although many have suggested that Trump’s order amounts to discrimination against Muslims, Doucette insists that is not the aim.

His message to foreigners, particularly Muslims, living in New Hampshire who may feel unwelcome and even unsafe?

“I served in the Navy, and I served with Muslims and personally they’re some of the most wonderful people in the world. But there are people who want to bring harm to us. And all I would ask is: Be patient. Be patient with what we have to go through to straighten out a broken system…. Just be patient. We’ll get through this time.”  

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