Refugees vet­ted, flight booked, but can they stay?

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Jaweed Kaleem jaweed.kaleem@la­times.com Times staff writer Tracy Wilkin­son in Wash­ing­ton con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Since be­ing ap­proved two weeks ago to fly to the United States as a refugee, Shaz Sadiq has read her Bi­ble and prayed nightly that noth­ing goes wrong.

She fled her na­tive Pak­istan — where her fa­ther had been killed in a church shoot­ing and she had re­ceived fre­quent death threats — in 2013 and has spent the last four years in Bangkok, Thai­land, ap­ply­ing for refugee sta­tus and per­ma­nent re­set­tle­ment in a place safe for Chris­tians.

“Ev­ery day is a mir­a­cle. And ev­ery day feels like a year,” said Sadiq, 42, who is sched­uled to ar­rive at Wash­ing­ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port the af­ter­noon of July 6 with her sis­ter and mother.

Sadiq, who has no rel­a­tives in the United States and has never been in the coun­try, could be among the last refugees of her kind ad­mit­ted to the U.S. — at least for a while — now that the Supreme Court has par­tially re­vived Pres­i­dent Trump’s travel ban.

With ex­cep­tions for peo­ple with a “bona fide re­la­tion­ship” to schools, em­ploy­ers, fam­ily or other U.S. en­ti­ties, the ban go­ing into ef­fect Thurs­day will block ad­mis­sions of peo­ple from six ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries for 90 days as the govern­ment eval­u­ates its vet­ting pro­ce­dures.

Pak­istan is not on that list. But the travel or­der also bans refugees from all coun­tries for 120 days.

Ad­vo­cates for im­mi­grants and refugees have been strug­gling to in­ter­pret the court’s less-than-clear lan­guage on who is ex­empt from the new travel rules and say that the fed­eral govern­ment has caused con­fu­sion by not re­leas­ing guide­lines on which refugees it will ac­cept.

The State Depart­ment is study­ing how to de­fine “bona fide re­la­tion­ship,” spokes­woman Heather Nauert said this week. Refugees al­ready en route — whether they have a bona fide re­la­tion­ship to the U.S. or not — would be al­lowed into the U.S. through July 6.

“Be­yond that, we don’t know,” Nauert said.

Sadiq said she’s con­fi­dent she and her fam­ily mem­bers will be able to start their new lives. She hopes to find work as a trans­la­tor, her pro­fes­sion in Pak­istan.

“This re­stric­tion is not for us,” she said. “We will make it.”

But a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the re­set­tle­ment agency help­ing her fam­ily, the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, said he’s less sure be­cause her sched­uled ar­rival comes at the brink of the dead­line. A de­lay on ei­ther of her two flights could push her over.

“I’m not con­fi­dent this fam­ily will make it in,” said Ruben Chan­drasekar, a re­gional di­rec­tor for the or­ga­ni­za­tion in the Wash­ing­ton area.

“A lot will de­pend on the ex­act guid­ance we get from the State Depart­ment,” he said.

Sadiq is be­ing re­set­tled with his of­fice be­cause she knows an em­ployee of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in the Wash­ing­ton area for whom she did trans­la­tion work in Pak­istan. But that kind of re­la­tion­ship may not be enough to pass govern­ment muster should she ar­rive late or lo­cal of­fi­cials de­cide to ap­ply their own dis­cre­tion, Chan­drasekar said.

“This fam­ily has no fam­ily mem­ber con­nec­tion in the area, so that also makes it harder to make a case if we have to,” he said.

About 40% of refugees in the U.S. ar­rive with no fam­ily in the coun­try. And be­cause of their sta­tus as refugees, they tend to not have the kind of job or univer­sity con­nec­tion other im­mi­grants could use to by­pass the ban.

Refugee groups have ar­gued that peo­ple who have been con­nected to re­set­tle­ment agen­cies in the U.S. — a re­quire­ment to re­set­tle — should be able to count those agen­cies as con­nec­tions.

Peo­ple with bona fide ties should in­clude “any­one who has an ex­ist­ing re­la­tion­ship with a non­profit, frankly tens of thou­sands of refugees,” said Becca Heller, di­rec­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Refugee As­sis­tance Project. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is among those whose law­suit against the travel ban the Supreme Court will con­sider in the fall.

But the State Depart­ment hasn’t weighed in on that ques­tion.

On Thurs­day, Mus­lim Ad­vo­cates, the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter and Amer­i­cans United for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State sent a let­ter to Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John F. Kelly ask­ing for “im­me­di­ate guid­ance” on how the ban will be im­ple­mented.

Justin Cox, an at­tor­ney at the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter, ques­tioned whether im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties are re­ceiv­ing clear guid­ance. “If they are vi­o­lat­ing what the Supreme Court said, we can and will go back to the courts,” he said.

Ad­vo­cates are hop­ing for a smoother roll­out of the travel ban than what hap­pened with the orig­i­nal ver­sion of Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der, which in­cluded green card hold­ers be­ing blocked and tens of thou­sands of visas be­ing canceled. That ban in­cluded a pref­er­ence for refugees who were re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in their coun­tries, in­clud­ing Chris­tians such as Sadiq.

Though Sadiq, her sis­ter, Rahila, and their mother, Doris, passed a vet­ting process that took years, they plan to cel­e­brate only af­ter pass­ing cus­toms agents and step­ping foot on Amer­i­can soil.

“We don’t have ex­cite­ment,” she said. “Maybe we will once we get to Amer­ica.”

She said she hopes that anti-im­mi­grant views in the U.S. won’t af­fect her fam­ily.

“If you have a guest in your house and the guest does not fol­low the rules, you have to un­der­stand if the guest has prob­lems,” she said. “But we are not trou­ble­mak­ers. We are friendly, po­lite women. We want to live our own lives. We are not go­ing to be a bother.”

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