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Refugee advocates say even partial reinstatement of travel ban will cause hardship

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The Supreme Court revived parts of Trump’s travel ban. (June 27, 2017)

Immigration and refugee advocates expressed disappointment Monday with the Supreme Court’s partial reinstatement of President Trump’s travel ban, saying even limited implementation could cause hardship to refugees and others seeking to travel to the United States from six affected Muslim-majority countries.

However, organizations taking part in the months-long legal fight against the revised travel ban expressed hopes that the high court ultimately will reject the restrictions after arguments are heard in October.

And they welcomed what they described as an implicit rebuke of the White House’s assertion that Trump has unfettered powers to exclude arrivals based on purported national security concerns.

The initial rollout of the ban, days after Trump took office in January, caused pandemonium at airports across the United States and overseas as tens of thousands of visa-holders arriving from seven affected countries were turned away without warning or detained.

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After courts blocked that order, Trump issued a revised travel ban that took Iraq off the list.

A replay of January’s travel chaos was unlikely Monday because the court’s action will allow visa-holders with “bona fide” ties to people or entities in the U.S. to enter, meaning students, employees and family members can still get in.

But refugee advocates said the court’s limited ruling, which the administration can move to implement on Thursday, could leave many would-be arrivals in limbo pending the finalizing of new vetting procedures.

The administration had originally said a three-month travel ban was needed in part to review the checks to which would-be entrants are subjected.

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David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, said the partial reinstatement of the ban particularly threatens “vulnerable people waiting to come to the U.S.,” including those with urgent medical conditions.

“We urge the administration to begin its long-delayed review of the vetting process and restart a program which changes lives for the better,” said Miliband.

The National Immigration Law Center, one of the groups that challenged the ban, said that as of this week, approximately 50,500 refugees from the six affected countries had been approved for travel and resettlement in the United States — all having already undergone intensive checks.

The Middle East Studies Assn., one the groups contesting the ban in the lower courts, said many students and academics were ensnared by the original order.

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Even though Monday’s court move should allow entry to those studying or working at American academic institutions, many from the affected countries remained wary of leaving and then attempting to reenter the United States, the group said.

Iran — along with Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya — is one of the affected countries, and Southern California is home to a large Iranian American community that was hit hard by the original ban.

Some advocates said even with Monday’s limited action, there has already been a chilling effect on movement.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision immediately places the status of many Americans’ families into question again,” said Shayan Modarres, legal counsel for the National Iranian American Council.

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The group said that visas issued to Iranian passport-holders had fallen by nearly half since the legal battle over the ban began, and that obtaining a U.S. visa was becoming so onerous that many would not even try to get one.

“The Trump administration’s new idea is to make it so hard on Iranians and Muslims to get a visa that visa officers will have the unrestricted discretion to reject visa applications,” Modarres said.

He added that grounds for rejection could be social media postings critical of Trump or not being able to produce airline boarding passes that could have been issued and used more than a decade ago.

Advocacy groups reiterated their position — which was argued in a number of the lower court cases that propelled the issue to the high court — that the travel restrictions run counter to core American traditions and values.

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Mark Hetfield, president of the refugee resettlement agency HIAS, said the group considered the court’s move “an affirmation that the president does not have unfettered, unchecked authority to bar refugees from the U.S. without evidence to justify such action.”

But he added that the executive order’s partial resurrection would “once again cause irreparable damage to refugees, immigrants and America’s reputation as a welcoming country.”

The initial ban prompted large nationwide protests, and advocates suggested they would again seek to marshal popular opposition to the restrictions.

“When the first order went into effect, tens of thousands of Americans showed the world that this is not who we are and not what we want,” said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, another of the groups involved in the legal challenge. “We will never give up defending the rights of those who are affected by this discriminatory executive order.”

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