Trump EO: Executive Authority to Exclude Aliens and the Long Battle Ahead

Posted: 12:31  pm PT
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On January 27, President Trump signed an executive order suspending the entry of refugees to the United States for FY2017 for 120 days. The E.O also proclaimed the entry of certain aliens as “detrimental to the interests of the United States” and declared the suspension of their entry into the United States for 90 days.  The aliens referred to are from countries cited under Section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C.1187(a)(12) according to the executive order.  These are the same countries cited under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen. (see Trump Bars US Entry of Refugees, and Citizens, Green Card Holders From Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen).

On January 28, a federal court in New York granted a temporary injunction to the ACLU. Statement below:

A federal judge tonight granted the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a nationwide temporary injunction that will block the deportation of all people stranded in U.S. airports under President Trump’s new Muslim ban. The ACLU and other legal organizations filed a lawsuit on behalf of individuals subject to President Trump’s Muslim ban. The lead plaintiffs have been detained by the U.S. government and threatened with deportation even though they have valid visas to enter the United States. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case, said: 

“This ruling preserves the status quo and ensures that people who have been granted permission to be in this country are not illegally removed off U.S. soil.”

Four days before this executive order was signed, the Congressional Research Service issued a brief on this topic which explains the broad power of the President under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Excerpt from the brief:

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides that individual aliens outside the United States are “inadmissible”—or barred from admission to the country—on health, criminal, security, and other grounds set forth in the INA. However, the INA also grants the Executive several broader authorities that could be used to exclude certain individual aliens or classes of aliens for reasons that are not specifically prescribed in the INA.

Section 212(f) of the INA is arguably the broadest and best known of these authorities. It provides, in relevant part, that:

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

The central statutory constraint imposed on Section 212(f)’s exclusionary power is that the President must have found that the entry of any alien or class of aliens would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

The statute does not address:
(1) what factors should be considered in determining whether aliens’ entry is “detrimental” to U.S. interests;
(2) when and how proclamations suspending or restricting entry should be issued;
(3) what factors are to be considered in determining whether particular restrictions are “appropriate”; or
(4) how long any restrictions should last.

Congress, of course, can amend the INA to specifically address these factors. Sen Dianne Feinstein said on Twitter that she will introduce two bills with the first one to “immediately rescind” the executive order.  She also said that the second bill “limits executive authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act.” We’ll have to see where this goes. A companion bill has to be introduced in the House, and both chambers have to agree to it and all its amendments, pass it before it gets to the White House to be signed into law. We doubt it would go very far given the GOP hold on both houses and the White House, but we’ll see.

The CRS report also points to two other sections of the INA:

Beyond Section 212(f), other provisions of the INA can also be seen to authorize the Executive to restrict aliens’ entry to the United States. Most notably, Section 214(a)(1) prescribes that the “admission of any alien to the United States as a nonimmigrant shall be for such time and under such conditions as [the Executive] may by regulations prescribe.” Section 215(a)(1) similarly provides that “it shall be unlawful for any alien” to enter or depart the United States “except under such reasonable rules, regulations, and orders, and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may prescribe.” For example, President Carter cited Section 215(a)— rather than Section 212(f)—when authorizing the revocation of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas issued to Iranian citizens during the Iran Hostage Crisis.

The CRS brief lists the categories of aliens excluded under INA 212(f) going back to President Reagan. There are about 50 such orders but from best we could tell, they are all narrowly constructed restrictions unlike the Trump EO. For example:

On October 10, 1985, Reagan issued Proclamation 5377 “Suspending the entry of specified classes of Cuban nationals as nonimmigrants (e.g., officers or employees of the Cuban government or the Communist Party of Cuba holding diplomatic or official passports).”

On Dec. 14, 1993,  President Clinton issued Proclamation 6636 “Suspending the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of aliens who formulate, implement, or benefit from policies that impede Nigeria’s transition to democracy and their immediate family.”

On July 3, 2007, President George W. Bush issued Proclamation 8158 “Suspending the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of persons responsible for policies or actions that threaten Lebanon’s sovereignty and democracy (e.g., current or former Lebanese government officials and private persons who “deliberately undermine or harm Lebanon’s sovereignty”)”

On March 19, 2014, President Obama issued Executive Order 13661 “Suspending the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of aliens determined to have contributed to the situation in Ukraine in specified ways (e.g., officials of the government of the Russian Federation, or persons who operate in the arms or related materiel sector).”

 The CRS brief includes a discussion of judicial constructions of Section 212 (f): Sale v. Haitian Centers Council, Inc. about the U.S. practice of interdicting persons fleeing Haiti outside U.S. territorial waters, and United States ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy, where the Court rejected a challenge to the exclusion of a German “war bride.”  In reviewing the court cases related to Section 212(f) INA, the CRS brief issued four days before the Trump EO was issued notes that “None of these decisions note any limitations upon the President’s power under Section 212(f). This silence could, however, be seen, in part, to reflect the arguably limited nature of the Executive’s use of its Section 212(f) authority to date.” Also this:

In no case to date, though, has the Executive purported to take certain types of action, such as barring all aliens from entering the United States for an extended period of time or explicitly distinguishing between categories of aliens based on their religion. Any such restrictions could potentially be seen to raise legal issues that were not raised by prior exclusions. For example, if the Executive were to seek to bar the entry of all aliens, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, for an extended time, questions could be raised about whether the President’s action was consistent with Congress’s intent in enacting statutes which prescribe criteria for the issuance of family- and employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visas and authorize the issuance of certain numbers of such visas each year.35 Similarly, if the President were to purport to exclude aliens based on their religion, an argument could potentially be made that this action is in tension with U.S. treaty obligations36 or the First Amendment.

No doubt this is just the beginning of a long battle in Congress and in U.S. courts. Of great interest perhaps to our readers is a legal look from Just Security’s ‘s Why Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees Violates the Establishment Clause and ‘s Why a Muslim Ban is Likely to be Held Unconstitutional: The Myth of Unconstrained Immigration Power



2 responses

  1. Since the closure of Embassy Sanaa the DoS has denied FSNs with 15 years of employment for the Embassy the opportunity to apply for immigrant visas. The FSNs now are spread around the global
    as refugees or stuck in Sanaa. That is what State does for loyal, long term career employees why should others be treated better?