The border control agent handed me a slip of paper instead of my passport. She had checked the box next to, “you are being detained.” It would have been farcical if it hadn’t been so terrifying.
I knew the worst case scenario was that I would be sent back to the U.S. where I have family, friends, and a life. It would also mean a struggle to get my student visa and I had only applied to schools in the U.K.—but I hadn’t even accepted a spot yet, so I wouldn’t really be losing more than a year and a few application fees.
I also knew that the law was in my favor. I hadn’t overstayed any visa, I showed ample resources, and the accusation that I was trying to establish residency was absurd (and showed the border agent’s complete and utter lack of understanding of immigration law). I had done nothing wrong and immigration law was on my side.
But in the moment, sitting on a plastic chair while the arrivals hall emptied out, the worst case scenario seemed much worse and I didn’t feel like I had anything, let alone the force of law, on my side. I can’t imagine how terrifying that process would be when the worst case scenario as bad as I felt it was—or even worse. I can’t imagine what it must feel like when you cannot cite the law in your favor (especially when you should be able to).
A student in my PhD program wasn’t allowed back in the country to continue her studies because she’s from Iran and went home for winter break. She was allowed back in this week because a judge suspended Trump’s order. Until her program is over it seems unlikely that she’ll be able to return home to visit her family for fear of being prevented from coming back to continue her studies. I don’t pretend to know what she’s going through right now but I can just begin to imagine how terrifying this must be for her.
The Appeals Court in San Francisco is going to hear arguments on the immigrant ban today. I don’t know how it will go, but I’m sure the case will end up at the Supreme Court.
I wrote my senior thesis as an undergraduate on how the Supreme Court balances civil liberties and national security in times of crisis. I posited that with the ongoing crisis atmosphere of the War on Terror (less acute than, say, WWII when the Court upheld Roosevelt’s Exclusion Order but still we aren’t exactly experiencing peacetime either) the Court would adopt a crisis jurisprudence. Justice Brennan explained that the Court needs to develop jurisprudence to deal with ongoing crises and that is, I believe, what is happening. The Court challenges the President but, maybe, does still err on the side of national security—balancing rather than just accepting the Executive’s claims.
What does that mean for the decision. I don’t know. There isn’t actually that much case law on this topic. The cases that allowed for the internment of Japanese-Americans were never explicitly overturned but the Court and the government as a whole have apologized for their error in judgement. Still what we are experiencing now isn’t directly analogous—no American citizens are being excluded, no one in the country (citizen or not) is being rounded up, so the Court would have little difficulty distinguishing the circumstances if they please.
I could go on, but I won’t because this is an area I haven’t studied in depth in about 5 years. And my point is not to predict the Court’s behavior. My point is to remind you that times are uncertain and irrespective of what the Court ultimately decides, we cannot sit back.
So call your congressman, donate to the ACLU, go to a protest, stay informed, be kind, do something. Because that’s the only way this will get better for good.
(FYI: in case you were wondering, I cannot take credit for the featured photo. It’s from a stock photo app. I wish I’d taken it though.)