News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by A Martínez
Airs Weekdays 2 to 3 p.m.

What President Trump's executive orders could mean for refugees and visitors to the US

Mariam Ali, a Somali refugee who lives in San Diego's Teralta neighborhood, pours olive oil into a pot for alfredo sauce, Feb. 26, 2016.
Mariam Ali, a Somali refugee who lives in San Diego's Teralta neighborhood, pours olive oil into a pot for alfredo sauce, Feb. 26, 2016.
Brian Myers / Media Arts San Diego

Listen to story

Download this story 54MB

President Trump on Wednesday signed the first in what's expected to be a series of executive orders aimed at beefing up national security and  curbing immigration.

According to reports from those who've been briefed on the orders, this week the President will enact a ban on most refugees and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries. 

To hear how this news is resonating with people from those countries living here in Southern California, we turned to two guests:

Actor Jay Abdo is originally from Syria, where he was one of the country's biggest stars. He left the country back in 2011 to avoid political persecution:

"I fled a country where leaders... worked hard, are still working hard, to divide people. To make them point fingers at each other. To blame each other for their problems, for their fears. And my hope is not to see that again in the United States, this wonderful country."

Mahdis Keshavarz was born in Iran. She and much of her family came to the U.S.  in the late 1970s:

"Especially the last 15 plus years, post 9/11, we're constantly reminded that we are not seen as equal citizens. Despite our best efforts, despite how we may view what's happened in our own countries, and what continues to happen. And we have spent 15 plus years continuously telling America, 'We're just like you. We believe in the same things as you,' yet that's fallen on deaf ears. And this latest action by this administration will be yet another reminder that we are not viewed as equal, and that is devastating to many of us."

For more clarification on what authority the President has to issue a ban on refugees or visitors from different countries, we turned to Niels Frenzen, professor of law and director of the Immigration Clinic at University of Southern California. 

Interview highlights:

When it comes to refugees, who creates the laws and policies we have now on who gets in and who doesn't?

Congress in 1980 created the current process that we have, and what Congress did in 1980 is it delegated virtually all of the authority to determine who gets admitted as a refugee and the numbers of people who get admitted as refugees to the President. So the President has pretty much complete control over refugee admissions... the 1980 Refugee Act says that the annual designations in terms of numbers and who is to be admitted, should be done in consultation with Congress, but it is very much a one-way consultation and it's the Executive [Branch] that decides."

How long would it take to implement a new executive order on refugees, immigrants, or visitors to the U.S.? Could it go into effect immediately?

It will depend on what the order says, but it certainly could take effect immediately. And there is some concern because there are refugees, including refugees from Syria, who are 'in the pipeline,' so to speak, who may be in the air, as we speak, flying to the United States. And if this order were to take effect immediately later today, there is real concern about what happens to those individuals when they land at LAX or JFK for example.

This possible ban on refugees is being talked about as a temporary one that would stay in place until more aggressive vetting procedures were implemented. Do you have any sense of what more aggressive vetting would look like?

Given how aggressive the current vetting process is, it's difficult to imagine how the U.S. could scrutinize arriving refugees any more vigorously. So I don't know what more could be done. I mean, we could certainly send out investigators into the field and spend millions of dollars investigating every individual refugee, but those things are just not practical.

What about people just looking to get a visa to visit the U.S.? We're hearing that a separate executive order could block visas being issued to people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Can the President make a broad ban like this on his own?

Yes is the short answer. Congress again has, decades ago, conferred authority on the President the power to suspend issuance of visas when the President determines it is in the U.S.'s best interest to do so. As a practical matter, those countries that are likely to be targeted are not countries whose nationals are receiving lots of visas. There are not a lot of Yemenis or Sudanese, for example, coming to the United States. But there certainly are Iranians who come to the United States as foreign students, for example, so certain of those countries are more likely to be impacted that certain of the others.

Could these executive orders face any sort of legal challenge?

I suspect there will be challenges. Again it's going to depend on the specifics, but the Executive [Branch], the President, has a lot of authority to act on its own in the area of immigration, as we saw the Obama Administration doing with the DACA program. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is one of those programs where the Executive acted without explicit statutory authority from Congress. But in regard to the refugee program and visa denials to certain countries, those are things that Congress has authorized the President to do. 

To hear the full interviews, click the blue player above.