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Refugee Groups Consider Legal Options To Challenge Travel Ban

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

There are still ongoing lawsuits over the Trump administration's travel ban. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the cases in the fall. Betsy Fisher is the policy director for one of the groups suing the government, the International Refugee Assistance Project. And she joins us now from St. Paul, Minn. Welcome to the program.

BETSY FISHER: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Your organization has argued that the travel ban discriminates on the basis of religion, that it's a Muslim ban. The ban that's now taking effect admits people from the six predominantly Muslim countries provided they have family, professional or educational ties to the U.S., doesn't apply to most Muslim countries or to most Muslims in the world. Has it effectively beaten the rap of being anti-Muslim?

FISHER: Well, I think the background and the history and the context of this ban speaks for itself. The comments from both the candidate and then the president who signed these orders pretty clearly established the intent behind the order. And that's one of the reasons we continue to oppose it.

SIEGEL: But you're saying based on what, say, Donald Trump as a candidate said, even if they were to extend the ban to non-Muslim countries and permit grandparents to come in and fiances, you would still say what he said in the campaign makes it an anti-Muslim ban.

FISHER: Well, let's be clear that the extensions here to family members, business and study connections was not implemented from the administration. That language came from the Supreme Court in response to concerns about the constitutionality of the ban.

SIEGEL: Your group works with refugees and others who are seeking to be resettled here. Do many of them benefit from the provision favoring people who have some family or other bona fide connection to the U.S.?

FISHER: We think that the vast majority of refugees do have bona fide connections. And some of them will benefit from the guidelines that were announced by the administration. But we think that the guidelines that the administration announced are underinclusive of the people who actually have the kinds of bona fide relationships that the Supreme Court outlined.

SIEGEL: Is the key question there whether working with a resettlement program is a bona fide connection to the U.S.?

FISHER: That's one key question. There are several categories of refugees who are eligible to be considered for resettlement because of their connections with the U.S. The guidelines don't make clear mention of that. And it doesn't make sense to make those individuals prove on a case-by-case basis that they have a family connection when their eligibility depends on it. There are 50,000 Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government or another U.S.-based entity who are eligible to be considered on that basis. All of them should be considered categorically to have a bona fide relationship. The resettlement agency issue is another concern. And we feel that a connection with the - a local U.S.-based resettlement agency should also qualify.

SIEGEL: But also, as for the Iraqis who work for the U.S. government, you're saying the fact of their having done that should satisfy whatever requirement there is, not a prospective relationship in the United States.

FISHER: Right. Well, part of their application process is showing recommendation letters and employment contracts. The requirement that the Supreme Court announced is if you have a connection to a U.S.-based entity, it must be a connection that is formal, documented and formed in the ordinary case - in the ordinary course of that entity's processing. So for both a refugee resettlement agency and for an Iraqi who worked for the U.S. military, I think it satisfies all three of those prongs.

SIEGEL: As you understand it, are there people who have been cleared or vetted and would have been able to come to the U.S. before the Supreme Court acted and who now cannot come to the U.S.?

FISHER: Yes, that will be the case under the guidelines announced today. Refugees who were cleared and who are scheduled to travel by July 6 will arrive. But everyone who was booked after that will now have to face a redetermination of...

SIEGEL: How many people are we talking about, do you think, in that group?

FISHER: At least 900 per week. So, you know, at least 2,000 people. And those people, in many cases, will have already sold their homes. And as Michele, your correspondent, mentioned, they can't just book later.

SIEGEL: Right.

FISHER: In many cases, their medical or security checks will expire.

SIEGEL: Betsy Fisher of the International Refugee Assistance Project. Thanks for talking with us.

FISHER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And this evening after I spoke with Betsy Fisher, the state of Hawaii filed a challenge to the travel ban guidelines announced earlier today. Hawaii said the Trump administration's interpretation of what constitutes a family relationship violates the Supreme Court's ruling, and it asked a federal judge for clarification. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.