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"This ban goes against everything I have known the United States to stand for," says plaintiff Mehdi Ostadhassan. (Photo: Vision Planet Media/flickr/cc)

Class Action Suit Filed for Tens of Thousands of Legal Immigrants Affected by Ban

'The halt to the processing of applications has caused fear and anxiety to thousands of non-citizens who legally are entitled to benefits'

Deirdre Fulton

The ACLU and other civil and immigrant rights groups have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of tens of thousands of immigrants who are currently residing legally in the United States but have been impacted by President Donald Trump's executive order suspending the U.S. refugee program and temporarily barring entry for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

The order has wreaked havoc across the country; indeed, the class action suit was filed one day before 50 ACLU affiliates filed 18 coordinated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with local U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices seeking clarity on how Trump administration officials are interpreting and executing the president's order at over 55 international airports across the country—and whether they are acting in violation of federal courts that have ordered a stay on its implementation.

Now, the ACLU says, "[i]mmigration attorneys have learned from leaked documents that the order is being applied to immigrants already lawfully residing within the U.S. who have pending applications for asylum, lawful permanent residence, and other immigration benefits, affecting tens of thousands of immigrants residing legally in the U.S."

The Intercept reported Monday that "staffers at one Department of Homeland Security office were devastated when they arrived at work Monday morning to find an email" outlining how the travel ban impacted immigration claims including petitions for asylum, permanent residency, or naturalization. As per The Intercept:

"Effectively [sic] immediately and until additional guidance is received, you may not take final action on any petition or application where the applicant is a citizen or national of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya," wrote Daniel M. Renaud, associate director of field operations for DHS's office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Field offices may interview applicants for adjustment of status and other benefits according to current processing guidance and may process petitions and applications for individuals from these countries up to the point where a decision would be made."

"At that point, cases shall be placed on hold until further notice and will be shelved with specific NFTS codes which will be provided through the Regional Offices," Renaud went on. "Offices are not permitted [to] make any final decision on affected cases to include approval, denial, withdrawal, or revocation."

"Please look for additional guidance later this weekend on how to process naturalization applicants from one of the seven countries listed above who are currently scheduled for oath ceremony or whose N-400s have been approved and they are pending scheduling of oath ceremony," Renaud wrote. "We expect to issue more detailed guidance and procedures as needed in the coming days."

This interpretation of the order impacts people like plaintiff Mehdi Ostadhassan, an Iranian national and practicing Muslim who has been living in the U.S. since 2009 and has an American wife and son. Ostadhassan, an engineering professor at the University of North Dakota, has applied for and is eligible to adjust his status to that of a permanent resident, the class action lawsuit (pdf) states.

But Trump's order has suspended that already lengthy process, placing Ostadhassan in a "state of limbo," as the lawsuit puts it.

"This ban seeks to shut me out of the United States simply because of my religion and my nationality, but my life and my future is here," he said. "This ban goes against everything I have known the United States to stand for. Welcoming immigrants is part of the American tradition. I have experienced this myself."

And his story could be repeated many times over, potentially preventing thousands of individuals "from having certainty about their future residence in the United States, from being able to travel overseas, from petitioning for immigration benefits for family members, from obtaining jobs available only to U.S. citizens, and from voting in U.S. elections," the lawsuit reads.

To say nothing of the emotional implications, as Stacy Tolchin, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles who represents many Muslim clients, noted: "The halt to the processing of applications has caused fear and anxiety to thousands of non-citizens who legally are entitled to benefits. This decision is irrational and illegal."

Renaud is named as a defendant in the suit, along with Trump and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly, as well as other individuals and entities.

Meanwhile, The Intercept and other outlets are reporting that, following calls from Illinois Democratic Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, the DHS Inspector General is investigating the implementation of the controversial ban—including by directing personnel "to preserve all documents" that may be relevant to such a probe. This comes after revelations that chief White House strategist Steve Bannon is trying to minimize the "paper trail" associated with critical national security decisions. 

Multiple other lawsuits have been filed, by U.S. states as well as civil rights groups, challenging Trump's order.

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