CPJ Safety Advisory: US executive order on immigration

On Friday January 27, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order making significant changes to the country’s immigration system. In the week since the order was issued, there has been great uncertainty about how to interpret the changes and how these are being implemented by the U.S. agencies charged with immigration and border protection. Several journalists have reached out to the Committee to Protect Journalists seeking additional clarification about the implications of the order to their work and presence in the United States. In response, CPJ’s Emergencies Response Team has issued the following advisory.

It is important for all journalists crossing the U.S. border to be fully aware of their rights, and to know what to expect if they are stopped prior to entering the country whether they are citizens or noncitizens. CPJ has worked with lawyers from the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to review President Trump’s executive order and other materials of interpretation and clarification to compile facts that directly apply to journalists working or looking to enter the United States. The materials consulted for this advisory are for the most part statements made by federal officials to the media, and with a few exceptions, do not come from official releases by departments. Departments in charge of implementing the order–such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)–are still working out what exactly it means, and how it should be implemented. CPJ will continue to monitor changes and will issue updates as necessary. This advisory does not constitute legal advice.

President Trump’s executive order suspends citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the United States on any visa category for the next 90 days. (Note that there is uncertainty on whether “Sudan” refers just to Sudan or also to South Sudan. The NBA, which has two athletes who were born in what is now South Sudan, has reached out to the State Department for clarification.)

The executive order provides a list of visas that are excluded from the travel ban (diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas). Journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the UN under C-2 visas may continue to do so.

However, the executive order does not directly address Media visas, known as I Visas. These are visas given to “representatives of the foreign media, including members of the press, radio, film, and print industries, traveling temporarily to the United States to work in their profession engaged in informational or educational media activities, essential to the foreign media function”. This leads CPJ to assume that journalists who are nationals of one of the seven countries and have media visas to work in the US will not be granted entry for 90 days.

The executive order does not talk about deportation of individuals who are already in the country. However, we recommend that journalists from one of the seven countries who are working in the U.S. with media visas do not leave the country within the time period covered by the executive order.

The order also suspends the US refugee program for four months, and halts the processing of Syrian refugees indefinitely. There is no mention of asylum seekers in the exceptions listed by the executive order. We recommend that any journalists from one of the listed countries currently seeking asylum in the United States immediately reach out to an immigration lawyer.

Individuals who are dual nationals of the U.S. and one of the seven listed countries will be permitted to enter the United States as long as they present their U.S. documents upon entry.

Though there was initial confusion on the issue, dual nations from two non-US countries, according to a recent clarification by CBP, “dual nationals with a valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visa in a passport issued by any country not restricted under the Executive Order will be permitted to apply for admission to the United States” if they present a passport from a non-listed country.

However, authorities charged with implementation of the executive order have repeatedly stated that they will conduct thorough investigations of dual nationals as they see necessary. Journalists with dual nationality from one of the seven countries listed should expect additional questioning when crossing the border.

In a January 29 statement, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly confirmed that under the executive order US Permanent residents–that is individuals holding a Green Card–who are citizens of one of the seven listed countries will not be automatically barred from entry. In his statement, Secretary Kelly said that green card holders should expect to be assessed on a case-by-case basis and will likely be subject to discretionary determinations of fitness for entry. Like dual nationals, Green Card holders who are nationals of one of the seven countries should expect additional questioning upon attempting to enter the US.

As with every border crossing, all journalists should have a plan for basic preparedness prior to travel. As part of this plan, the journalist should make sure a trusted contact (family member, friend or colleague) knows details of the individual’s travel plans including route, carrier details, vehicle details and time of arrival. The journalist should also include any other information that may help them if the journalist fails to check-in, or show up. The journalist should leave the contact of a person, when possible an immigration lawyer, who their trusted source should call if the journalist fails to show up.

For additional information on safety tips for journalists crossing the US border, please see CPJ’s Safety Advisory from December 9, 2016. For more information on basic preparedness and technology security, we encourage journalists to review CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide.

CPJ will continue to document any cases of journalists who are questioned, harassed or denied entry into the United States, as well as actual or attempted search or seizure of journalistic materials in order to bring them to the attention of appropriate authorities in the U.S. We encourage all journalists who have experienced this situation to reach out to us with additional information. You may do so by emailing [email protected].