Global Refugee Laws and US Areas Affected Most by Trump Ban

By Barbara Crossette

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Protesters at Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City on Jan. 28, 2017, demonstrating against President Trump’s executive order banning refugees, specifically from seven Muslim-majority countries. People are still detained at the terminal, according to the ACLU.

The public furor and enormous protests by many thousands of Americans nationwide have led experts to try to explain where the decisions made by Donald Trump fall short of legality in both national and international law. From Hollywood to the world of sports to the corridors of the United States Congress, people are saying that an informed population is crucial at this extraordinary moment in American history.

In this second installment of an occasional series on research and data useful to readers, PassBlue focuses on two aspects of the current debate: the rights of migrants of all kinds as well as patterns of settlement within American cities.

The bedrock agreement on which all post-World War II refugee law is based internationally is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is commonly known as the Geneva Conventions. In 2011, when António Guterres, now the United Nations secretary-general, was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency produced a readable guide to the refugee conventions and a subsequent protocol since attached to it.

A more exhaustive compilation of refugee law is found in the Collection of International Instruments and Legal Texts Concerning Refugees and Others of Concern to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many if not most of the predominantly Muslim international travelers whom Trump is aiming to keep from the US, violating American constitutional prohibitions against singling out religion or national origins as bars, are relatives of people already living, working or studying in the country.

In Washington, D.C., at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program,its deputy director, Alan Berube, has assembled data charts showing where people live who have immigrated and settled in the US over many years from the seven countries falling under Trump’s restrictions: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Berube wrote that although big-city mayors from coast to coast are criticizing or taking legal actions against the US government, the situation is affecting smaller metropolitan areas, too.

“While it’s true that these big cities are home to large numbers of affected individuals and communities, they aren’t the only places with a significant stake in the matter,” he wrote in his Brookings paper. “Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that many places around the country — both large and small — are home to immigrant populations from the countries targeted by Trump’s executive order. Under the order, members of those immigrant communities may find it impossible — at least in the short term — to bring family to the United States, and to travel to their countries of origin and subsequently gain readmission to the United States.”

Two charts of special interest in the current crisis are included in Berube’s report. One lists the metropolitan areas in the US with the largest number of immigrants born in the countries targeted by Trump’s ban, led by Los Angeles; Detroit; the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania region; San Diego; the Washington DC area; and Chicago. Another chart illustrates which metropolitan areas have the highest share of residents from those countries per 1,000 people in the population.

American colleges and universities, in these and other regions of the US, have found that both students and faculty members with rights to US residency, temporary or permanent, have been trapped abroad and unable to return.

“Schools across the country scrambled Sunday to account for international students, faculty and staff with social-media posts signaling problems and attorneys in some cases having trouble getting to talk with people being detained,” The Washington Post reported on Jan. 29. “There was confusion about whether just student visas were at risk, or whether green-card holders and dual citizens might be detained, as well. The effect on university personnel was felt almost immediately after the executive order went into effect.”

On Jan. 31, António Guterres, UN secretary-general, released a carefully worded statement regarding the Trump refugee ban, saying: “Countries have the right, even the obligation, to responsibly manage their borders to avoid infiltration by members of terrorist organizations. This cannot be based on any form of discrimination related to religion, ethnicity or nationality because that is against the fundamental principles and values on which our societies are based; that triggers widespread anxiety and anger that may facilitate the propaganda of the very terrorist organisations we all want to fight against; blind measures, not based on solid intelligence, tend to be ineffective as they risk being bypassed by what are today sophisticated global terrorist movements.

“I am also particularly concerned by the decisions that around the world have been undermining the integrity of the international refugee protection regime. Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution are finding more and more borders closed and increasingly restricted access to the protection they need and are entitled to receive, according to international refugee law.”

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Independent Coverage the United Nations. A project of The New School’s Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs, supported by the Carnegie Corporation.

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