When President Trump signed his executive order in late January temporarily restricting all refugees and some foreign citizens from entering the US, it sent shock waves around the world, including through many US universities that have international students and faculty.
Since then, Bowdoin students have been asking administrators and professors to help them better understand US immigration policy — both what it is currently and what it could become, according to Leana Amaez, Bowdoin’s associate dean of students for diversity and inclusion.
To help answer their questions, the Office of Student Affairs recently invited two Portland attorneys to campus to speak about immigration law. They lawyers addressed a full room of students, staff, and faculty in Moulton Union on Feb. 6, speaking about what they called the “travel ban,” as well as the status of so-called “sanctuary cities” — “and sanctuary campuses.” They also shared their thoughts about the future of President Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA permits certain people who came to the US as children, and who meet several guidelines, to request consideration of deferred action on their immigration status for a period of two years, subject to renewal.
Michael Murray, an immigration lawyer at FordMurray, got right to the point, speaking about whether President Trump has the legal right to bar all refugees from entering the country for 120 days (and all Syrian refugees indefinitely), and to bar all citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. “When this news came out, I went to [colleague Sara Fleming’s office] and asked, ‘Can a president do this? Ban people from entering the US based solely on their nationality?’” Murray recalled. “So we hit the books and the surprising answer is yes, he can do this,” at least according to a 1952 federal law called US Code 1182.
[The executive order] doesn’t change the status quo from what we have today, which is that colleges and universities do not have to affirmatively enforce immigration laws against their students, Which is great. We don’t want that kind of police state.”
—Immigration attorney Michael Murray
Further complicating the ambiguous legal status of Trump’s move is the belief in some quarters that while the president may have statutory authority to bar some people from entering the country, the way he exercises his power could be unconstitutional. Murray argued that since new immigration order grants an exception to persecuted religious minorities from the seven targeted countries, it is likely in violation of the constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that prohibits the US government from passing legislation to establish a religion or from preferring one religion over another.
Trump defends his order by saying it is necessary to protect national security, where the president traditionally has great leeway. But the final decision will likely be decided by the Supreme Court, Murray said.
Murray also spoke about Trump’s demands that cities and states help the federal government enforce immigration laws, threatening to withhold federal funding if they do not comply. At the moment, very few states and cities are involved with immigration enforcement because they do not have the expertise or resources to tackle this complex legal area, Murray explained.
Murray also pointed out that private institutions, such as colleges, have not been asked to help enforce immigration laws. “So it doesn’t change the status quo from what we have today, which is that colleges and universities do not have to affirmatively enforce immigration laws against their students,” he said.
Attorney Sara Fleming then addressed student questions about DACA. Since 2012, 1.3 million applicants have been approved, she said, so they can continue their education or stay at their jobs.
While Trump spoke out against DACA during his campaign, Fleming says his administration has recently indicated that it might back away from a “hard stance” on this program. “One of his spokespeople said they’ll work with Congress to let DACA kids continue to live in the US in some fashion,” she said.
Fleming did warn that the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General might not be a good sign for immigrants. “He’s been against immigration of any kind — of legal or undocumented people — and if he is in charge of the Justice Department, it is not great for any of these programs,” she predicted.
However, she tempered this assessment by saying that the new secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, might counter some anti-immigration moves, particularly since he sought to exclude green card holders from the original immigration order. In addition, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) have proposed a new bill, The Bridge Act, which could replace DACA and make the program more permanent.
In conclusion, Murray said he would prefer to see Trump work with Congress to update immigration laws. “There seems to be a lot of rushing and haste to make these changes, when there is a better way to go about it,” he said. “The better action would be to work with Congress to come up with laws to change the way we do things. That’s a more complex process, a longer process, but in the end, it is a more effective process.”