Trump’s Travel Ban Is Back, but Airport Chaos Isn’t
Lawyers and activists gathered at JFK and Dulles on Thursday evening, prepared for the ban’s 8 p.m. reinstatement. But the airports were tranquil—the disruption has moved overseas.
The travel-ban enforcement has officially been outsourced.
At airports along the East Coast on Thursday night, family members hugged loved ones, kids squealed as their parents arrived at baggage claim, and tired travelers gulped down cigarettes on the warm summer night. It felt like any other night at the airport.
But for the small clutches of lawyers and activists who gathered in the international arrivals areas, none of it was a given. That’s because at 8 p.m. on the dot, the White House reinstated President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
The last time this happened, airports whirled with chaos. Customs and Border Protection officials detained and then deported more than 200 people who had the misfortune of being on planes headed to the U.S. when Trump signed the travel-ban executive order. And more than 700 people were held for lengthy screening, according to Customs and Border Protection numbers The Daily Beast reviewed. Protesters and volunteer lawyers surged to airports, waving signs and singing songs. Terrified family members huddled together, hoping their relatives wouldn’t be sent back to the countries on the ban’s list. And federal judges quickly blocked the travel ban.
Because of a Supreme Court ruling handed down Monday, the ban is now back. But the chaos isn’t. This time around, the administration seems to have learned its lesson: The State Department, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security put together plans for implementing the ban, and the ban itself was much narrower than it was back in January, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to let it be enforced only on people without “bona fide relationships” to American people or entities.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the ban in October. And a few minutes after the ban was rolled out, the state of Hawaii moved to have a federal judge clarify the Supreme Court’s vague wording. Until October, if the the first few hours of the renewed ban were any indicator, things at America’s airports should be normal.
At the Central Diner at Terminal 4 of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, a small gaggle of volunteers with the New York Immigration Coalition gathered at their onetime action hub to monitor a handful of flights from coming in from London, Istanbul, Doha, and Abu Dhabi. Unlike last time, they weren’t besieged by frightened family members of anyone on those flights.
“We’re not really expecting any issues at the airport, but we’re here just in case, to monitor, to tell people what’s going on, and to report back what we’re seeing,” Camille Mackler, the director of legal initiatives at the NYIC, told The Daily Beast. “We think we’re gonna see it abroad, because it’s really for people applying for visas.”
The DHS directions for implementing the ban, she argued, contradict the Supreme Court’s intent. For purposes of enforcing the ban, the administration isn’t letting people come to the U.S. whose only close familial relationship is with an aunt, uncle, or grandchild.
“The Supreme Court court clearly meant for it to apply to individuals who have no connection to the United States, and instead the administration sort of twisted it,” Mackler said, referring to definitions of what constitutes close family. “We know the president wants the Muslim ban, and that’s what he’s trying to get.”
And while individuals abroad can’t necessarily file lawsuits on their own behalf in U.S. courts, their relatives may be able to.
“We’re asking them to call our hotline and send emails,” Mackler added.
The ban’s enforcement has moved to U.S. consulates overseas, and that’s why the airports are so calm. The administration has directed State Department officials at consulates around the world to change visa-issuance procedures, denying papers to people who don’t have sufficient ties to the U.S. So instead of DHS blocking people at airports—where protesters can gather and lawyers can hover—State Department officials are blocking them in their home countries.
Sirine Shebaya, a board member of the Dulles Justice Coalition and senior staff attorney with Muslim Advocates, told The Daily Beast that the ban’s implementation hadn’t surprised her.
“The implementation problems and the denials for people are going to happen overseas and at consulates abroad,” she said, “where it’s much harder to actually find people and get them legal assistance.”
“We haven’t seen anybody having problems entering or any family members who look particularly distressed,” she added. “We knew that the fight this time around is going to be not necessarily at the airports because the second order was crafted this way.”
About half a dozen volunteer lawyers showed up at Dulles Airport, along with a handful of translators and other opponents of the ban. Jasmeet Sidhu, a researcher at Amnesty International, told The Daily Beast her group wasn’t aware of anyone who had been detained at the airport.
“I think we will see issues pop up,” she said. “I think there is a lot of fear and anxiety for people traveling here.”
“We’re just staying tuned, trying to see what happens,” she added.
—Alex Brook Lynn contributed reporting