The audience seated in the basement of Bethany Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis on Tuesday night was mostly Somali immigrants, mostly scared but determined.
They came to learn more about President Donald Trump's executive order on refugees and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries. Their questions concerned their fathers, mothers, friends and community and, sometimes, themselves.
"Why did they not let my dad come to the United States?" one person wrote on a blank notecard. "Is the ban constitutional?" wrote another.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR Minnesota, which is headquartered at the church, said his organization, as well as immigration attorneys and the ACLU, "have been completely overwhelmed" in the days since the president signed the order.
Teresa Nelson, legal director of the ACLU of Minnesota, advised immigrants already living in the United States to avoid international travel, at least for now.
She said there are teams of lawyers at airports around the country, including at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, to help those who are detained. But people who are stopped must insist on speaking with an attorney; the attorneys are not told by Customs and Border Patrol agents that someone needs them.
Nelson said she knows of no one who has been detained or deported in Minnesota. Several permanent residents have undergone extensive screening but have been allowed to leave.
She called the ban "baldfaced religious persecution."
Explaining the order
John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, summarized the executive order for the audience:
It bans all refugees from all nations for 120 days; Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely. It decreases the number of refugees the federal government agreed to take in fiscal 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000. The fiscal year started Sept. 1, 2016, and 30,000 refugees have already entered the country, thus, only 20,000 more are allowed under the order. Many of those refugees have been waiting for four years, some for 20 years, he said.
People from seven countries who already have valid U.S. visas, including permanent visas and tourist visits, are banned for 90 days. Those with "durable visas" — students, professors, doctors, scientists, researchers — can no longer simply renew their visas without an appointment. The waiting time for an appointment can range from months to years, Keller said, and the process would be impossible to sustain.
"There is no basis [for this] in immigration law," Keller said.
"Everyone has been asking us exactly what is going on," Keller said. "It's going to be very hard for us to tell you. I tell clients it's my job as an attorney to not make a mistake. What we are facing is an order from the president that was not even reviewed by the proper legal channels in the federal government."