By Vaughn Zel-Lloyd and Joe Snell
A week after the initial immigration executive orders were released by the Trump administration in late January, local law firm Mosaic Family Services, Inc. set up phone banks to speak with every one of their clients over the last several years. Their goal was to advise clients on their rights and offer assistance in collecting proper documentation.
“My job now requires me advising my clients about rights that I never had to in the last two years,” said Anna Rupani, a staff attorney with the firm. “Things like if an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent comes to your door, you don’t have to open it unless they have a warrant. You have the right to remain silent. Things that I never had to think about actually advising my clients about. Under the prior administration, there wasn’t this manhunt so to speak of undocumented immigrants, which seems existent now.”
The first of the executive orders, released on Jan. 25, was titled “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements.” A second order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” was released only two days later and lowered the number of refugees admitted into the United States, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, and directed cabinet secretaries to suspend entry to individuals from seven specific countries unless issued an exception. Those seven Muslim-majority countries included Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The latter order, known as the “travel ban,” set off protests amid cries of discrimination, as individuals who had previously been allowed to enter the country were detained, including a number of immigrants at DFW International airport.
“I was at the airport during the first travel ban,” Rupani said. “There were plenty of people that were behind CBP (Customs and Border Protection) for 16 hours, which is absurd when you think about the fact that they either have visas or are green card holders.”
Dual-citizen of the United States and Iran, Persia Abdanan, joined a large demonstration in downtown Dallas immediately following the announcement of the ban. She marched, because she was afraid family members would not be allowed back into the United States after visiting Iran.
“We heard stories about people being dual citizens and being detained,” Abdanan, a Muslim, said. “Even though [my father] is a U.S citizen, he’s still a citizen of Iran. It’s on his passport that he was born in Iran, so we were worried about that. Green card holders, even though they are legally here, can’t travel out of the country and come back during the middle of the weekend. My aunts, uncles and cousins are very afraid to leave the country at all.
“My grandpa in December got really sick, and my dad had to make an emergency trip to Iran,” she said. “If this would have happened in January, then what? If he, God forbid, passes away soon, we won’t be able to go to his funeral.”
Local resident Mary Anne also attended the march to show her solidarity with detainees. Anne believes that a united presence aimed at elected officials is important to making a difference.
“The goal is to have our elected officials see what the people want,” Anne said. “Our elected representatives work for us, so they need to follow our lead. We’re sending a message saying that we’re not going to turn our backs on our refugees. We’re not going to allow the law to be broken, and that’s why all these wonderful lawyers and judges are so important.”
Rupani echoed Anne’s belief in communicating with local government officials.
“I can’t say enough that people calling their representatives actually changes peoples’ minds in Congress and in the State,” Rupani said. “Protesting and volunteering are your other two things.
“Going to the White House website and actually reading the orders is important.”
Since the initial march in downtown Dallas, a number of large marches in the metroplex have taken place including the “Dallas Mega March” on April 9, which attracted thousands and began at the Dallas Catholic Cathedral.
“An event like this is really to educate us even more,” Anne said. “I think it will make people even more willing to speak out, organize, and volunteer in other ways to potentially to help the cause of these people and make the Muslim people feel welcome and not so scared.”
Officer James McLellan of the Irving Police Department emphasizes that officers do not stop and question individuals over their immigration status. Questioning, he says, is typically done pertaining to state criminal laws. Part of the normal booking process for the Irving Police Department for arrested persons involves taking fingerprints. Those prints are submitted to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which maintains Texas criminal history information.
As part of the Secure Communities Act, those fingerprints are submitted to ICE, and in reviewing data, ICE may contact the Irving police department and request a detainer to be placed on an inmate.
Officer McLellan offers advice for what types of documentation his department requires individuals to carry.
“If people are driving a vehicle they are required by state law to have a drivers’ license in their possession,” Officer McLellan said. “If they’re not driving, they’re not required to carry identification, although it’s a good idea in the event something happened to them. People should not worry about not carrying identification unless they are in a driving situation.”
A redrafted executive order released on March 6 included a number of changes, including removing Iraq from the list of travel banned countries, removing the exemption for religious minorities in the banned countries listed, and applies language that says the order does not apply to green-card holders or anyone with a valid visa inside the U.S. The redrafted order also includes a case-by-case waiver process that was not available to refugees from one of the seven initial countries.
With the redrafted order as one example, Rupani believes the protests and calls to elected officials are not going unheard, especially here in Irving.
“People have seen this big movement with the indivisible project and seeing members who are a part of this indivisible group,” Rupani said. “I think this has made a difference. It hasn’t gone unheard. It has given rise to people in different parties on how they should treat their constituents and how they should be responding to their constituents.”