On Friday, Donald Trump issued an executive order barring all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the United States for three months. It also suspended the processing of all refugees, including those who had already been selected for admission, for four months. There was no warning, and there were no transitional provisions to deal with persons who were en route to the United States when the ban was imposed. People around the world were in shock. Students who had valid visas and were expecting to start or return to university programs were turned away, as were permanent residents with jobs and homes in the U.S.
The justification for these measures — that they were necessary to protect the security of the United States — is another one of Trump's assertions that has no factual basis. There is no evidence that refugees pose a threat to national security. All the refugees who had already been accepted, and the thousands more who were in processing and were expecting to be resettled in the U.S., had been exhaustively screened to ensure this. Yet the ban has now been imposed (judicial orders issued over the weekend dealt only with a small number of cases of people in transit), creating immense hardship for those affected.
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The wording of the executive order is extremely broad and has created uncertainty as to who will be affected. Initial indications were that it included all dual citizens, including Canadians born in any of the seven countries, and that U.S. green card holders would also be denied entry. On Saturday night, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement indicating that Canadian dual nationals from the seven countries would be admitted. And on Sunday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a statement declaring that the measure would not be applied to green-card holders. But confusion still reigns, and nationals from the listed countries face continued ambiguity about their ability to enter or (if they are already there) leave the U.S.
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Shortly after the executive order was issued, Justin Trudeau tweeted that Canada would continue to welcome refugees. But in the face of the severe consequences that affect hundreds of thousands around the world, concrete actions must be taken.
First, Canada should welcome some of the refugees stranded abroad and should request that the UNHCR convene an urgent meeting of countries involved in resettlement so that safe haven can be found for those in most urgent need.
Immigration officials have already announced that nationals of the seven countries who are stranded in Canada will be given temporary permits. The measure should be extended to allow some of those affected abroad to obtain permits allowing them to come to Canada if they have suffered hardship as a result of the executive order.
Canada must immediately also suspend the application of the Safe Third County Agreement as it applies to nationals from the seven countries listed in the executive order. Under this agreement, which came into effect in 2004, asylum seekers who come to Canada via the U.S. are denied the right to claim refugee status here, because the U.S. is deemed a “safe” country. (Essentially, the idea is that if people have passed through the U.S. — a "safe" place — and not been granted asylum, they can't then try their luck here.) Canada should, further, announce an urgent review of the agreement: given some of the measures already taken by the Trump administration and the anti-refugee rhetoric emanating from it, many asylum seekers will not feel safe making a claim in the U.S.
And finally, in view of the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique in Quebec City on Sunday, the Canadian government must send out a clear message that people of all faiths are welcome in Canada, and it must continue to denounce the use of rhetoric that, under the guise of protecting national security, presents misinformation and inflames public sentiment against Muslims and other groups.
Lorne Waldman is a Toronto-based immigration law expert and has taught immigration law at Osgoode Hall and the University of Ottawa.
Photo courtesy of Mike Maguire and licensed for commercial use under a Creative Commons licence. (See the uncropped version)