New York Times:
By Nicholas Kulish and Ron Nixon
February 7, 2017
A complaint filed with the inspector general for Homeland Security details what two legal advocacy groups call “systemic abuses and violations of the rights of individuals lawfully entering the United States” after an executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
People caught up in the confusion after the travel ban was imposed were denied access to lawyers, held in detention for hours without food, and were in some instances coerced into signing away their entry visas, the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School and the Center for Constitutional Rights said in the 99-page complaint filed late Monday.
The report was redacted to protect the names of people caught up in the disruption. It included 26 accounts by lawyers barred from reaching their clients and in some cases by affected individuals or their relatives.
As the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, prepares to hear arguments over whether to lift a stay on enforcement of the ban, immigration lawyers and refugee groups continue to try to take advantage of the window provided by a federal judge in Seattle to bring people into the country.
Appearing before Congress on Tuesday, the Homeland Security secretary, John F. Kelly, told lawmakers that he should have delayed the executive order “just a bit” to make better preparations. But he rejected accusations that inspectors had insulted those caught up in the confusion after the order was signed by President Trump.
“Everyone was treated humanely,” Mr. Kelly told lawmakers. He said the United States was not planning to add additional countries to the travel ban.
The travel ban and ensuing disruption have focused attention on the Customs and Border Protection inspectors at the nation’s airports and the significant but often overlooked discretion that they have over foreign citizens trying to enter the country. Inspectors can examine the contents of smartphones and computers and ultimately deny entry even on a gut feeling, with no right of appeal or review.
“Keeping America safe and enforcing our nation’s laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully examine all materials entering the U.S.,” said Daniel Hetlage, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection.
Doris Meissner, senior fellow and director of the United States immigration program at the Migration Policy Institute, said: “The inspector’s decision can override the decision of a consular officer who issued the visa. These are separate authorities.”
Ms. Meissner, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said: “When they are inspecting you, even though you’ve gotten off the airplane, you are not in the United States. You may think you are in the United States but for legal purposes you aren’t until that inspector admits you.”
According to the report by the legal advocacy groups, the niece of a detained Iranian described how he was not given food for 18 hours and then was physically carried to a plane headed back to Dubai. A Sudanese doctor in the midst of her residency in Cleveland told how her passport was confiscated while she was held in detention and not returned until she had been deported to Saudi Arabia, the country she had flown in from.
Over and over, lawyers said they had been unable to reach their clients. The group complained that border agents “maintained an impenetrable wall between these detained individuals and lawyers.”
“In order to prevent similar rights violations from occurring in the future, we recommend that the Office of Inspector General develop mechanisms to ensure that individuals detained in airports can communicate with legal counsel,” the report said.
The burden of proof, Mr. Hetlage said, falls on the side of the person who wants to enter the United States. “In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility,” he said.
There are more than 60 reasons for keeping someone out, including, he said, “health-related grounds, criminality, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”
At the congressional hearing, Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in his prepared remarks that the rollout of the executive order had been problematic.
“It caused real confusion here in Congress, across the country and across the world,” Mr. McCaul, a Texas Republican, said. “And it caused real problems for people with lawful green cards and visas, who in some cases were already in the air when the order was signed.”
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