Abu Talib Ali, a Sudanese lawyer turned wheelchair attendant at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, lent his story earlier this year to legal challenges to President Trump’s executive order pausing refugee resettlement and travel from six countries.
On Monday, Ali joined supporters and opponents of the order in parsing a key Supreme Court decision: The court will weigh in on the order this fall, meanwhile allowing it to go into effect — but only for travelers without a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the United States.
Some Minnesotans on both sides of the issue declared the ruling a partial victory — even as they predicted confusion and legal wrangling over the court’s exact intent.
Those supporting the travel ban order said the decision largely vindicated the president in his bid to suspend the arrivals of refugees and visitors from six countries as his administration rolls out more stringent vetting. Others pointed out that the great majority of refugees and travelers from the six Muslim-majority countries coming to Minnesota do have family or other ties to the state, so few would be affected by the order set to go into effect Thursday.
“I could tell my clients to relax, at least for the next few months,” said Abdulwahid Osman, a Somali-American immigration lawyer in the Twin Cities.
But immigrants such as Ali, who contributed to an amicus brief opposing the order, still worried about reuniting with relatives and traveling overseas — though a revised version of the order specifically excludes green-card holders like him. The Supreme Court decision came after two federal appeals courts blocked the order, which suspends the arrival of refugees for four months and of visitors from Somalia, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and Libya for 90 days.
Osman spent Monday morning fielding calls from clients anxious about the implications of the Supreme Court ruling. Many are in the process of sponsoring family members for travel visas or green cards. He quickly posted a lengthy explanation of the decision in Somali on his Facebook page, deeming it mostly good news for the local community.
“This decision will impact a very narrow slice of Somalis looking to travel to Minnesota,” he said.
An overwhelming majority of refugees resettled in Minnesota come through a program that reunites newcomers with family members already here. Bob Oehrig at Arrive Ministries, one of five private agencies that contract with the government to resettle refugees in the state, said the Supreme Court’s decision might mean only a small number of “free cases” — such as Syrian refugees without ties to the state — could be affected. But Oehrig said he and others await clarity from the government on how the order will affect resettlement.
Kara Lynum, an organizer of an effort to station volunteer attorneys at the airport, worries that some travelers will be snagged as the administration clarifies the definition of “bona fide relationship” and works out what evidence they need to present.
“I am concerned about people who don’t realize they have to travel with their marriage certificate or a letter from their employer,” she said. “It was frustrating to see this partial, mushy stay that I am concerned will lead to confusion.”
Lining up proof of family relationships might be challenging for travelers from countries such as Somalia, where documents such as birth certificates are hard to come by after years without a functioning government, Lynum said. Her volunteer lawyers hope the Department of Homeland Security will quickly issue clear guidelines. That will help the group work out how many attorneys will camp out at the airport starting Thursday to help travelers affected by the order.
Supporters of ban cheer
Some local supporters of the order felt that Monday’s announcement signals that the justices find merit in the government’s arguments. Linda Huhn, a Twin Cities member of NumbersUSA, an advocacy group that favors limiting immigration, said the Supreme Court made the “right choice.” She said a temporary pause of travel and resettlement to review and strengthen vetting procedures has been misrepresented as religious discrimination amid “media hysteria and liberal hysteria.”
“The president has the security of the country in mind, and he has every right to ban anyone from any country that he and his team deem a danger to our country,” she said. “I don’t think this has anything to do with religion.”
Tom Krieg, a retired sales manager now living in St. Cloud who has pressed Stearns County for details on the local costs of refugee resettlement, also welcomed the court’s announcement. He was frustrated with lower court decisions that blocked the order and found the Monday decision vindicated Trump’s argument he has broad authority to set travel restrictions.
“I think the president is absolutely right,” he said. “All you have to do is look over to Europe and some of the incidents happening there.”
But he acknowledged refugees with family ties in the state will likely continue to arrive in Minnesota from elsewhere.
Feeling shunned in America
For Ali, the Supreme Court decision was an endorsement of an order that had made him feel unwelcome in the United States for the first time.
In the 1980s as a law student back home, Ali says, he was arrested and beaten after taking part in a protest against a harsh new Islamic law. After a 1989 coup, he landed on a list of opponents targeted by the new regime. He says he was tortured for weeks in a “ghost house” and later spent a year in prison. A visiting American professor in Khartoum helped him travel to the United States and seek asylum in 2010. Eventually, his wife and his three children followed him.
Ali says he worries a daughter studying medicine at the University of Khartoum might be unable to return to the United States. Since the order was signed, he has been afraid the U.S. government will turn him over to the regime in Khartoum.
”I do not understand why America would turn its back on people like me,” he said.
Ali and two fellow airport workers contributed to an amicus brief jointly filed by the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. Javier Morillo, who heads the local SEIU chapter, said local members who work for airport contractors are overwhelmingly foreign-born.
“What our members do really makes the airport work,” Morillo said. “For them to be affected by our current climate feels darkly ironic.”
Both supporters and opponents of the order said they look forward to a conclusive resolution by the Supreme Court. The court is slated to take on the case after it reconvenes in October.