In the wake of several federal executive orders affecting immigration, Maryland attorneys are mobilizing to understand the orders’ ramifications and advising caution to their clients – whether they are citizens or not.
“The Trump administration has changed the rules of immigration law,” said Jonathan S. Greene, a Columbia attorney.
Greene estimated 200 of his current and former clients are impacted by the orders and new clients have been reaching out with concerns.
“I’m getting dozens of people calling up who have never had a relationship with my office before who need to meet with a lawyer,” he said.
President Donald Trump has signed three executive orders that impact immigration, including what critics are calling a “Muslim ban” indefinitely suspending resettlement of Syrian refugees and all other refugee resettlement for 120 days. The administration also banned entry for 90 days of foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
Towson attorney Nicole M. Whitaker said she does not have many clients impacted by the most recent orders, but clients have been calling her office with “generalized fear” since Trump’s election in November, and individuals planning to travel internationally are asking if they should follow through with their plans.
“Unfortunately, my response to them is, ‘Yes, you technically have permission to travel but when you come back to the U.S. the immigration agents have so much discretion, I can’t guarantee they’re going to admit you,’” she said.
The biggest uptick in her practice has been people looking to become citizens, which Whitaker said she attributes to concerns about the Trump administration. She said she is recommending clients who are eligible to apply for citizenship do so.
“There’s plenty of substance to the executive orders but it still remains to be seen how most of this is going to go into effect,” she said.
Weekend at Dulles
Maureen Sweeney, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, said clients have been calling since well before the election because they were concerned about the rhetoric around immigration.
“One of the things that I stress with my students is this is a country of laws and it’s our job representing immigrants who are facing the enforcement power of the government that the government does not exceed its powers,” she said.
Greene said he is advising clients with immigration documents, including those proving citizenship, to carry them around and have copies in a safe place.
“Overnight, this country has turned into a place where people will have to prove their immigration status, and that includes U.S. citizens,” he said.
Hayley Tamburello, a Baltimore immigration lawyer, said none of her clients were impacted by the immigration ban but the other executive orders and their rapid rollout are a concern.
“It’s really hard to give them advice because everything keeps changing so fast,” she said. “The immigration attorney community is pretty tight-knit and everyone is working and trying to share whatever analysis they have. It’s hard to get work done when every five seconds there’s another announcement of another change. It definitely hasn’t been the most productive of weeks.”
Tamburello spent time at Dulles International Airport over the weekend as attorneys flooded in to provide services as needed. The bulk of her time was spent gathering and sharing information as people arrived on international flights and providing details about detentions.
“We’re concerned about who is not being allowed to board planes at all, where that is taking place,” she said. “We’re concerned about the treatment of people being detained for long periods of time.”
Attorneys are discussing legal challenges, according to Greene, and asking the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice for clarification about the orders which are already the subject of court proceedings.
So far, four U.S. district judges — in Brooklyn, New York; Boston; Alexandria, Virginia; and Seattle — have issued temporary rulings blocking aspects of the order impacting individuals from the Middle East.
But the other executive orders are also vulnerable to challenges, according to Greene. One order would cut funding to localities that do not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement, sometimes referred to as “sanctuary cities.”
Howard County is considering legislation to become a sanctuary county, and Greene has testified before the county council on the issue. Litigation challenging the executive order will most likely follow because case law says the federal government cannot coerce local governments and states by cutting “all federal funding.”
“The executive order demands that state and local governments become federal immigration agents and tear apart our communities,” he said.
Sweeney said the orders are “incredibly sweeping in their reach” and implicate federal law and constitutional issues.
“I think the tenor of many of these provisions is more political than legal and it’s the responsibility of the legal community to point out and to push back where legal lines have been crossed,” she said.
Greene called the administration’s actions “overreaching” and said they will need to be defended in court.
“This is a country where the Constitution is the highest law of the land, not President Trump’s executive orders,” Greene said.