Trump’s travel ban blocked again, but Indian immigrants are a worried lot

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NEW YORK:  President Donald Trump’s second travel ban targeted at six Muslim-majority countries has been derailed by judges in Hawaii and Maryland.  The White House will appeal the decisions. Trump has vowed to not give up what he believes is essential to neutralize the threat from radical Islamic terrorism. Despite reversal of the bans, some travelers, especially Muslims, are wary of stepping foot outside of the US; terrified of being shunted out.

Recent reports of increase in incidents of Customs and Border Police (CBP) personnel demanding cellphone of travelers, even American citizens, going through data, indicate that there’s a seesaw battle going on at immigration checkpoints. The Trump administration may be stymied in their efforts to regulate who’s allowed to come in and who’s not, but seemingly they have given almost a free rein to CBP to take action as they deem fit. It doesn’t matter which country you are from, but travelers from South Asia, Middle East and Africa are squarely under the lens.

Ali Khan, a professor of law at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and Founder of Legal Scholar Academy, writing in Jurist, points out that there’s no federal law specifically prohibiting CBP officials from “harassment” of travelers arriving at the US points of entry. In fact, the CBP officials at points of entry have more powers than police officers on the streets.

“The Department of Homeland Security and CBP need to understand that they are doing a disfavor to the economy and reputation of the US by their over-zealous detention and questioning of international visitors,” Khan wrote.

For Indian-origin residents in the US, those not having an American passport or a Green Card, the increase in airport scrutiny is psychologically worrisome on more than one front.

There’s ample evidence from immigration attorneys and experts that visa holders are facing more administrative processing from the DHS. It’s worse for those who need to get their visa stamped, for work or study, every time they travel overseas, seek an appoint at the local US embassy or consulate. Compound that with the probability of detention and further questioning on arrival at American shores by the CBP, and it’s understandable that many would baulk at the idea of traveling at all.

With spiraling hate crimes against Indians, vitriol against minorities spreading across suburbs, there’s a palpable sense of unrest in the Indian community that this is just the beginning of tougher vetting processes.

Already, there are indications that tough protectionist policies and rhetoric of the Trump administration aimed at curbing the H-1B visa is having repercussions on the US education industry.

This week, a new survey of over 250 colleges and universities indicate a dramatic decrease in Indian student applications to both undergraduate and graduate programs. India is only behind China in sending the most number of students to the US annually. Two of the reasons cited are worries over restrictions on the H-1B visa program and growing hate crimes.

One has to remember also that not too long ago, there was plenty of media coverage of dozens of Indian students sent back from airports by US immigration for enrolling in colleges and universities that didn’t pass muster with the USCIS. Many students were financially ruined for no fault of theirs.

It’s not just overt executive actions on travel by the Trump administration, but subtle changes to immigration rules and laws that is threatening the quality of life for legal immigrants.

While anti-immigration supporters will rejoice in the fact that the premium processing for H-1B visa program has been shut down for six months, and there’s a likelihood of the EAD, work permit, for some H-4 visa holders being revoked, what it really does in effect is to diminish the quality of life for mostly Indian immigrants, who are its majority beneficiaries.

Trump’s executive order on the travel ban had also a caveat for all non-American passport holders in the US, which of course, is still kept at bay for now, because of court judgments.

The ‘Expedited Completion of the Biometric Entry-Exit Tracking System’ means that all non-citizens would have to be fingerprinted and photographed even when leaving the US. The biometric procedure is, of course, the norm when all non-citizens arrive at US checkpoints. But, when this aspect of the executive order is put into effect, it would mean that travelers might have to expect long queues and additional delays at airports at departure points.

For international travelers, who are advised to arrive at least four hours prior to departure, this would perhaps mean arriving an hour earlier. So, make that five hours.

The intention of this measure is to crack down on those who overstay their visas. It’s a good measure. But in all likelihood, would make life miserable for travelers at busy airports and bring down their overall confidence in traveling in and out of the US.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on twitter @SujeetRajan1)