As the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed part of President Donald Trump’s travel ban to stand temporarily, the U.S. bishops' conference sympathized with the refugees affected by the ban. “We were disappointed that those who were already assured and really all cleared and ready to come as refugees were not allowed to come during this period,” Matt Wilch of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told CNA.
The application of the travel ban that was upheld by the court Sept. 12 would affect refugees who had received a “formal assurance” of resettlement from an agency in the U.S., probably numbering more than 20,000, Wilch said. These refugees would be currently unable to travel to the U.S. on that condition. That application of the travel restrictions in Trump’s executive order on immigration had been halted from going into effect in a recent decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his March executive order “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, Trump had restricted travel to the U.S. from six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria. Foreign nationals from those countries could not enter the U.S. for 90 days unless they had a special visa.
In Hawaii’s challenge to the travel ban, the Hawaii district court issued a temporary injunction against enforcing the ban on refugees and immigrants with family members living in the U.S., including aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, grandchildren, and brothers and sisters-in-law. The district court also issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the travel ban on refugees who already had a “formal assurance” of placement in the U.S. from a resettlement agency.
The Ninth Circuit court upheld that decision recently, saying that the travel ban could not be applied to refugees and immigrants in those cases. On Tuesday, however, the Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Circuit on the latter application of the travel ban, to refugees who have a formal assurance from a resettlement agency that they could enter the U.S. Thus, that application of the ban is essentially allowed to stand as the court will consider Hawaii’s challenge to the travel ban, with oral arguments in the case scheduled for Oct. 10.
Wilch said Tuesday’s ruling is “an interim kind of decision about who would be allowed in while the larger case was pending, so it’s not a final say on the issue.” However, the court did not touch the Ninth Circuit’s prohibition on the travel ban applying to those with family members in the U.S.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was pleased to hear that news, Wilch said. And the conference will be paying close attention to the overall case of the travel ban at the Supreme Court, he said. “As Catholics, as Christians, as Americans, welcoming refugees is in our DNA, and so we’re deeply concerned and watching it [the case] very closely,” Wilch said. “And we’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will come down with the decision that is consistent with American values, in terms of welcoming refugees.”
Iraq was originally on Trump’s list of six countries from which travel was restricted. It was later reported that, as a condition of Iraq’s removal from the list, the U.S. would deport Iraqi nationals who had previous criminal records and had been given a final order of removal from a federal immigration judge. Many of the Iraqis, detained by ICE this summer, had resided in the U.S. for decades and were Chaldean Christians.
In the March executive order, Trump also ordered a four-month shut-down of the U.S. refugee resettlement program and a review of the program’s security. He capped refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 2017 fiscal year, well short of the planned number of 110,000. Reports are circulating that Trump will further reduce the planned number of refugee admissions for the 2018 fiscal year.
The U.S. bishops' conference responded in a statement that they were “deeply concerned” by the news, and that they proposed an increase to 75,000 admissions for that year. “We think it’s really time to get back to the serious business of saving lives, and we urge the administration to have the total this coming year be 75,000,” Wilch told CNA on Thursday.