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Travel ban eases for two in Metro Detroit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Dearborn attorney Mohamed Elsharnoby has two clients affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban. In both cases, their troubles owed to love. By Sunday afternoon, perhaps love had won out.

Both clients were allowed to continue on their travels Sunday afternoon. Elsharnoby declined to share his clients’ names because of their insecure legal status, he said. He was just happy to see them able to travel freely, he said.

One client, a female Chaldean refugee and green card holder from Iraq, about 30 years old, had been detained at Boston’s Logan Airport since Saturday, Elsharnoby initially reported.  Later Sunday, Elsharnoby said she was on her way to Metro Detroit after being released to continue her travels, more than 18 hours after the ban took effect.

She had arrived in Boston from Egypt, where she went to marry a Coptic Christian man she met online, in the hope he would be able to soon join her in America. Then things went awry.

Sunday morning, the White House announced that it had softened its stance on the ban. Green card holders would no longer be allowed or denied entry to the United States on a "case-by-case” basis, but would be let back in like any other traveler.

Things didn't start out so hopeful for the Sterling Heights man, either, who was hoping to have his wife, a Chaldean woman, join him from Iraq, one of the seven countries banned from traveling to the United States for 90 days under President Trump’s executive order Friday.

The man, in his mid-30s, is an Iraqi refugee who’s been in America “about four years,” Elsharnoby said. He had returned to Iraq to marry a woman, and she was set to join him Saturday before being detained in Philadelphia.

The man, Elsharnoby said, had “rented an apartment and bought furniture” to welcome his wife home with, but got a call at about 5 p.m. Saturday from a Customs officer saying he shouldn’t worry, that his wife was safe. However, the officer added that the man’s wife would likely be sent back to Egypt.

If that’s the case, pursuing a stay in federal court is more costly than the client can afford, and would likely have to be handled by someone else. Legal fees for a stay could fall in the range of “$5,000 to $15,000,” he said, which is more than most refugee clients are able to pay.

A Detroit Metro Airport spokeswoman said Sunday that airport officials had no information on travelers being refused entry at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration directed comments on how the travel ban affected people arriving in Metro Detroit to Customs and Border Patrol, which did not immediately return a request for comment.

George Tzamaras, senior director of communications and outreach for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that things have moved “fast and furiously” since the travel ban was announced, adding that members of the association “across the country are trying to observe, monitor and be helpful” wherever travelers have been detained.

Ben Johnson, executive director of AILA since January 2016, said the last week was as dark a time as he'd seen over his 20 years in the nation's capitol, including 9/11. The travel ban could affect "hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Johnson cited the "purpose" section of the travel ban as a source of concern.

"This is a thinly veiled attack on Islam," Johnson said of the portion of the order that reads: "The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including "honor" killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation."

"That should send a chill through on everybody's spine; who couldn't get caught in that dragnet?" Johnson said. The organization is considering setting up an 800-number so people with questions about the ban can reach out, but said AILA depends on its 14,500 members as its "instruments of information."

Melanie Goldberg, vice chair of the Michigan chapter of AILA, said her contacts in the legal and nonprofit communities locally have not reported anyone being detained at Metro Airport. An attorney for Justice For Our Neighbors Southeastern Michigan, Goldberg said she expects her phone will “ring off the hook” come Monday.

Goldberg said Metro Detroiters are in a unique position with the travel ban, given that the Canadian border is a short drive away.

“Being so close to the border, people don’t even think twice about crossing it,” Goldberg said, which may put some in a position where they can’t easily return. She offers advice for green card holders from affected countries: “Don’t travel outside of the U.S., even with a green card.”

Even though things apparently resolved  for his clients Sunday, Elsharnoby took little relief from the move to allow green card travelers the right to travel.

“(Green card holders) are still going to be under examination and under a new way of security. The refugees I work with from Iraq can still be put under security screening, still be asked about their religion and beliefs and all kinds of questions,” Elsharnoby said, noting that Iraqi refugees such as his client from Sterling Heights wouldn’t feel comfortable in their ability to leave the United States and return.

“These people came for the American Dream, but it’s falling apart piece by piece in front of our eyes,” Elsharnoby said.