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Government & Politics

Cleveland Immigration Lawyer Says Trump Tricked People into Self-Deportation, Order is 'Horrifying'

David Leopold
David Leopold

Cleveland immigration lawyer David Leopold was among the scores of attorneys trying over the weekend to overturn or at least outrun President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. The order bans all refugees for 120 days – and those from Syria indefinitely. It also blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for the next three months.

Leopold says he had an inkling from a leaked draft of the ban earlier last week of what could be coming. Still, he describes himself as horrified by the final order.      

"I saw right away that this is going to lead to the defecto deportation of long-term green-card holders, people with long-standing ties to the United States. People with families here, people who have been here for decades who just happened to be overseas.

The Trump has denied it is a ban on Muslim refugees, noting it doesn’t ban visitors from all Muslim-majority countries nor shut down only Muslim refugees. But Leopold maintains the intent was clear.

“It’s been written by a very clever, crafty lawyer. It’s very carefully put together for that very reason: Because it gives them the ability to say, ‘Oh no, no, this is not a Muslim ban.

A question of breadth and timing
But, Leopold maintains, the target is Muslims and “No president has ever used the law to the breadth that Donald Trump has. And the reason is because the standard (to block refugees) is the entry of the individual would have to be detrimental. Nobody can say that every person from Syria is detrimental to the United States.”

He points, figuratively, to the photo of a small boy, face down in the ocean and dead, after trying to escape Syria. “Does that include that poor child?”

Click here for answers to five key questions about the ban from NPR.

Leopold notes and that the exclusions set up to allow refugees to enter the U.S. are for religiously persecuted people who follow minority religions in their countries. And since the minority religion in Muslim countries is most likely Christianity, Leopold says this has the effect of letting in Christians, not Muslims.

What happened to Suha Abushamma?
One of those taken by surprise by the ban and it’s initial and inconsisten applicability to legal residents in the U.S. was Suha Abushamma. She’s a first-year resident at the Cleveland Clinic who has a visa for specialty occupations. Before coming to the U.S., she had been living in Saudi Arabia, but is from Sudan, one of the seven countries from which Trump is banning visitors. So when she tried to return to the U.S. from a visit to Saudi Arabia, she was stopped at JFK airport, and Leopold’s attempt to intervene failed.

“What people have to understand is that someone coming into the United States, ... getting off the plane and going up and walking to the immigration officer and showing him their passport. …. At that point, a noncitizen does not have a right to an attorney.”

Click here for an annotated version of the executive order.

President Obama reacts to the ban.

Leopold tried to get border agents to hold up on her deportation, but she was sent back just minutes before a federal judge in New York ruled – at least temporarily – that people who had arrived at U.S. airports legally could remain. The ruling did not extend to people who were overseas and didn’t get on a plane in time to beat Trump’s order.

The changing status of green cards
“That are not covered by this, and that includes green-card holders, people who have been here for years and years and years and just happened to be at a conference overseas.

'This is not what the country is about ... tricking people into a deportation. And that's exactly what happened here."

“Even though you may have gotten your green card in the 70s as a child in the 70s, and even though you may be married and have a spouse and have children, and even though you have a job and you have patients, you’re not coming back anytime soon under this order.”

But the administration did make some adjustments to allow waivers for green card holders as major confusion accompanied the rollout of the bans throughout the weekend.

“What Donald Trump has tried to do with the stroke of a pen is order the defacto deportation of long-term lawful permanent residents who happen to be originally from Syria, Iraq or any of the other five countries (Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya). He said he’d like to see Trump rescind that order and will be involved in legal challenges this week. But he says the spontaneous protests that broke out around the country are an important part of the response.

Protests at Cleveland Hopkins Airport over the weekend.
Joan Dowling, Susan Squires and Barbara Bachtell from Cleveland Heights said the immigration order seems 'surreal' to them.

“I think the American people are repulsed by it (the order). … This is not what the country’s about. We have robust debate as they say and we should. We should disagree and we should work out our differences, but not like this. Not by simply tricking people into a deportation. And that’s exactly what happened here."

Leopold says if the administration had wanted to show what he called “even minimal decency,” it would have given people 30 days notice before imposing the ban. Donald Trump is standing by his order, denying it’s a ban directed specifically at Muslims, saying it protects the U.S. from terrorists and insisting it’s going very well.

A Quinnipiac poll out today but done two weeks before the ban was imposed showed American voters 48 - 42 percent approved "suspending immigration from 'terror prone' regions, even if it means turning away refugees.." 

It also found American voters support 53 - 41 percent "requiring immigrants from Muslim countries to register with the federal government,” and that 59 percent of American voters believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and "eventually apply for U.S. citizenship."