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New travel ban brings little relief, Chicago activists say

U.S.+President+Donald+Trump%2C+flanked+by+business+leaders%2C+signs+an+executive+order+establishing+regulatory+reform+officers+and+task+forces+in+US+agencies+in+the+Oval+Office+of+the+White+House+on+Feb.+24%2C+2017+in+Washington%2C+D.C.+%28Olivier+Douliery+%7C+Abaca+Press%29
U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by business leaders, signs an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 24, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by business leaders, signs an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 24, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press)

Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press

Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by business leaders, signs an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 24, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery | Abaca Press)

While President Donald Trump’s revised executive order banning travel from six majority-Muslim countries and barring refugees from entering the U.S. is a small improvement over his earlier order, it remains an unacceptable ban on Muslims, Chicago immigration activists said Monday.

About a month after federal judges blocked Trump’s temporary ban on citizens of seven Middle Eastern and African countries, a move that Chicago advocates called “a backdoor ban on Muslims,” the president on Monday signed a revised version of the executive order, barring immigrants from six of those nations, taking out Iraq.

“Make no mistake that this is still very much a Muslim ban,” said Ahlam Jbara, a board member of the Arab American Action Network. Starting March 16, foreign nationals from Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen who are outside the U.S. and did not have a valid visa when the original ban went into effect Jan. 27 may not enter the U.S. during a 90-day suspension.

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The new order maintains a 120-day suspension on refugee admissions and still reduces the total number of refugees to be accepted before Sept. 30 from 110,000 to 50,000 — a cap that quickly could be met after the suspension ends. Syrian refugees, who were barred indefinitely in the previous order, are now part of the four-month moratorium.

Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, acknowledged that the administration eliminated the “egregious illegalities” of the previous executive order but said the revised order is still rooted in discrimination based on national origin and puts people in danger.

“The new order is simply a modified refugee and Muslim ban, and a continuation of the Trump administration’s smear campaign against refugees and asylum seekers,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the travel ban “nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“It is a betrayal of our nation’s values that our government would slam the door on refugees fleeing war, death and unimaginable conditions, that our government would divide families and that our government would attempt to exclude people based on their religion,” Emanuel said in a statement.

To avoid confusion at airports on the day the ban goes into effect, the executive order clarifies categories of travelers that will not be admitted to the U.S. and gives federal agents more than a week to address questions about implementation. A day after Trump signed the January executive order, passengers who had been in the air were detained at airports across the nation, including at O’Hare International Airport, causing relatives to panic and drawing crowds of protesters.

Still uncertain that the new order will be enforced consistently, the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced Monday that it had launched the Travelers Assistance Project, an opportunity for people heading to Chicago to register their itineraries for tailored legal support.

Using travel plans and personal histories, project coordinators will match travelers with interpreters and more than 1,400 volunteer lawyers on the ground who will track their flights and provide immediate pro bono legal assistance when they arrive in Chicago. Since late January, more than 1,000 travelers have registered with the project and volunteer lawyers have maintained a daily presence at O’Hare from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Hatem Abudayyeh, director of the Arab American Action Network, urged more protests at airports.

“It was the people in the streets, it was the people in the airports across the country that defeated (the initial executive order),” he said at a news conference in front of the Chicago office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “We will continue to be out in the streets, we will continue to organize. We will continue to protest, and we will defeat this one as well. James Carafano, who oversaw national security planning during Trump’s transition, said the executive order is an attempt to keep up with terrorists’ traffic patterns. The six noted countries are likely destinations for thousands of foreign fighters coming out of conflict zones, he said. Not only do al-Qaida and ISIS already have footprints there, he said, those countries also don’t have adequate procedures to keep members of the organization in the country.

“This is the U.S. administration fine-tuning concerns we already have about terrorist outflow from these countries,” said Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies for the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank. “It’s a dynamic threat. People say that’s not a problem today. The terrorist global footprint has been evolving over the last year and a half. You have to evolve to keep up with it.”

He rejected the suggestion that the order equated to a Muslim ban, pointing out that many other countries, including Iraq, are predominantly Muslim and aren’t included in the order.

“That’s a ludicrous argument,” he said. “How is it a Muslim ban? Those countries are predominantly Muslim. So are a lot of other countries and they weren’t banned. “It’s very difficult to make a case that it’s punitive against Muslims. It’s designed to stop terrorists from coming to the U.S.”

But Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ban has nothing to do with national security. It’s based on politics, he said.

“It is reckless. It is dangerous. It will be found to be unconstitutional,” he said.

Douglas Kmiec, a constitutional legal scholar at Pepperdine University who drafted executive orders as President Ronald Reagan’s chief legal counsel, said the revised ban appears to pass constitutional muster on its face. But that doesn’t mean the changes erased all the red flags.

“It’s very clear that the president is following the road map of concerns raised by the 9th Circuit,” he said, referring to three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked the earlier order. “Something constitutional on its face can always be subject to challenge if it’s applied unevenly or applied in a manner that raises constitutional concerns or exceeds statutory authority.”

Othman Al Ani, 32, a legal permanent resident of the U.S. who arrived as a refugee from Iraq four years ago, said the removal of Iraq from the executive order doesn’t make his family any happier. His older brother has been waiting to join his parents and siblings in the U.S. as a refugee. The temporary ban to strengthen vetting procedures could add years to that wait, he said.

“There’s no glimpse of hope,” said Al Ani, who now works for the immigration legal clinic of the Iraqi Mutual Aid Society. “Don’t let me talk about the security check for everybody arriving in the U.S. I spent four years and three months waiting for security checks. You can’t work. You can’t do anything but wait for a phone call that you are coming to the United States.”

Al Ani’s mother, a green card holder, was detained in February on her way back from visiting his older brother in Egypt. Now, he said, she’s too scared to leave the country again for fear she won’t be able to see her other children and grandchildren. She’s distraught now that it’s unclear when she will see her oldest son again, he said.

“This is not a relief for us,” Al Ani said.

Chicago Tribune’s Nereida Moreno contributed.

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