Trump EO Blocks Legal Residents, Causes Confusion at Dulles and Elsewhere

Dulles Airport may not be in the middle of a major city, but it now stands in the middle of an intense controversy over President Trump’s executive order banning people from certain countries from entering America – including legal residents of America who are from these countries originally and were seeking to return home.  As the day progressed, the stance of the Trump administration on the meaning of its order changed, but an even larger problem remained the same: its disregard for the rule of law.

First presented during the presidential campaign as a ban on all Muslims entering the country, the proposal changed several times, ultimately taking on the final form of an executive order issued last week banning all “immigrant and non-immigrant” entry into the country from seven specified countries.  There are several problems with this order, but the most obvious was that it included immigrants who have been granted Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status and can live and work freely in America – a group commonly known as green-card holders.

Several of these LPRs were detained at Dulles, including a pair of legal U.S. residents who were detained, stripped of their green cards, and summarily deported to Ethiopia  – despite actually being from Yemen.  As Saturday turned into Sunday and U.S. residents were still being detained and deported without anything vaguely resembling due process, protesters and lawyers descended on Dulles and several other airports to show support for those blocked from entry and provide legal services to anyone in need.  Passengers arriving to the U.S. were met with cheers, and donations of food and coffee arrived, along with a single counter-protester wearing a Make America Great Again hat and briefly waving a Trump-emblazoned flag.

For those who believe immigration is a solely “rule of law” issue, LPRs are the people who did everything right, going through an elaborate, years-long process before being allowed to stay here legally.  They have American jobs, often have American spouses, and are fully embedded in our country’s life.  Or at least they were until this order was issued, causing them to be turned away at airports or detained as if they were committing a crime in trying to return to their families.

According to a well-sourced legal writer, the Department of Homeland Security originally determined that LPRs were not covered by the executive order, only to be overruled by the White House.  Whether DHS originally felt this way or not, they enforced the order as if it included legal residents, leaving the only question as whether the White House didn’t know the law or didn’t care about it – and their later response suggested the latter.

When multiple federal judges stayed portions of the order, the customs officials and the Trump administration as a whole reacted in a way true to the former president whose face now adorns the walls of the current Oval Office – they did whatever they wanted anyway, legal or not.  DHS announced that the full ban was still in effect despite court orders to the contrary.  Customs officials at Dulles and multiple other airports refused to release legal residents who had been detained, allow those residents to talk to legal counsel, or even admit how many residents they had detained.  For those who have complained over the past few years about brazen abuses of executive power, this was the most dramatic example yet.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was happening in the name of “national security.”

DHS later announced that green card holders were apparently no longer included in the order, though no mention was made of the court decisions which had been ignored or whether blocking LPRs had been the original intent of the president at all.  Given the refusal to admit who had been detained, confirming they had been released was difficult.  Those who had been delayed were often eager to head home rather than talk to those interested in their case.  As the last international flights of the evening arrived at Dulles, the lawyers packed up their laptops, though the cheering section remained boisterous in welcoming the last of those arriving.

Those of us who believe in limited government will have to hope, however unrealistically, that today’s disregard of the judiciary was an isolated incident and not the beginning of a continuous fight to constrain an executive who has shown little regard for constitutional limits on his power.  If it is the latter, the gathering of people at Dulles and elsewhere in response will be important in preserving the balance of power that has long made America great.