Reuters first reported on the planned executive orders Tuesday, and the following day, an eight-page draft of the order was obtained by The New York Times. The language of the document is subject to change before it is signed.
The proposed order would halt the immigration of Syrian refugees for three months and ban individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from visiting the United States for a month. The bans would be lifted once screening processes have been examined and approved by Trump and top intelligence officials.
Deborah Weissman, a UNC law professor specializing in immigration and citizenship, said the president is within his rights to limit the immigration of refugees and the number of visas issued if he determines it is in the public’s interest.
Weissman said Trump’s executive action could face legal challenges because the order targets countries that are majority Muslim.
“We’re singling out people based on their faith and their country of origin,” she said.
Ron Woodard, director of N.C. Listen, an immigration reform organization, said this was a sensible response given that FBI Director James Comey said the country cannot fully screen every refugee from certain countries in the Middle East.
“I think that is what Donald Trump has taken his cue from,” he said
Comey has said it was difficult to vet Syrian refugees due to limited intelligence on the area.
“The good news is we are much better doing it than eight years ago. The bad news is, there is no risk-free process,” he said last October in a Congressional hearing.
Weissman said while the president has the authority to limit immigration, she sees it as bad policy.
“This is really a departure from our American values and our constitutional framework and it amounts to state sanctioned bigotry,” she said.
Sandy Alkoutami, a Syrian-American UNC student who has volunteered in refugee camps in the Middle East, said she has family in Syria that has been undergoing the vetting process since 2011.
“Since the revolution, they have been trying incredibly hard to leave,” she said. “It’s pretty clear that it’s not going to be happening anytime soon.”
She said those like her family might be considered lucky to have connections to the United States.
“If anything, they are fortunate because they already have family in America who can support and endorse their coming,” she said. “With millions of other refugees, that’s not the case.”
Zubair Rushk, a UNC student and Syrian refugee, said the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign was very upsetting to the refugee community and has caused many people to consider refugees dangerous.
He said refugees escaped their countries to live better lives, but Trump has portrayed them as second-class citizens.
Rushk said four days ago, two FBI agents visited his house to check on him after a neighbor had grown suspicious of him.
“Everything is going against us at this point,” he said.
Three weeks ago, Rushk founded N.C. United for Refugees and Immigrants, an organization led by immigrants and refugees that hopes to make new arrivals feel welcome.
The organization is planning its first march on Feb. 4 in Durham to provide awareness to refugees’ rights.
Meagan Clawar, who works with the UNC Refugee Community Partnership, said the fear that many people have of refugees could be mitigated if people knew them, the vetting process and the reasons they fled their homeland.
After working with refugees in Chapel Hill for the past three years, she said it has been disheartening to see their anxiety.
“No one really knows what is going to happen,” she said. “As a program, what we’re trying to do is show up for our new neighbors, for our refugee families, and ensure them that no matter what happens policy-wise, we’re all there for them.”