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  • February 02, 2017

    How Should Employers Respond to Trump’s Muslim Ban?

    Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 Executive Order suspends the issuing of immigration visas and other immigration benefits to citizens of several Middle Eastern countries, affecting employees of U.S. businesses and employees' family members. How should companies and their human resources staff respond to the impact of this Executive Order?

    Nilesh P. Patel

    Donald Trump’s Executive Order of Jan. 27, 2017, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” suspends the issuing of immigration visas and other immigration benefits to citizens of several Middle Eastern countries. The Order affects many employees of U.S. businesses as well as the employees' family members.

    How can companies and human resources (HR) staff respond to the impact of this Executive Order?

    The Executive Order

    According to the New York Times, the Executive Order:

    "... indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. ...
    "After the order was signed, students, visitors and green-card holding legal permanent United States residents from the seven countries – and refugees from around the world – were stopped at airports in the United States and abroad, including Cairo, Dubai, and Istanbul. Some were blocked from entering the United States and were sent back overseas."

    Nilesh P. Patel Nilesh P. Patel, U.W. 2003, is principal attorney at Mahadev Law Group, LLC, where he focuses on advising businesses to proactively comply with employment law obligations and avoid employment disputes. He is licensed in Wisconsin and New York.

    The Executive Order led to a crazed weekend, with confusion among government agencies about its scope, detention or denial of entry into the United States for individuals with approved visas and green cards, nationwide protests for the second time in just under a week for the new administration, and emergency legal actions to limit the immediate harm. It also led to a retaliatory ban on American citizens entering Iran.

    How Can Employers Respond to the Executive Order?

    Employers need to consider at least the following issues. The discussion below is strictly informational; it is not meant to be legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.

    1. International Travel for Foreign Employees
      Green-card holders or noncitizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen should not travel outside of the United States until you confirm with legal counsel whether they will be able to return.

    2. For Foreign Employees in Transit
      It appears green-card holders and visa holders should be able to return due to court orders from this weekend. However, all individuals from the seven banned countries may be stopped, questioned, or detained. If possible, consider sending them information on their rights, such as asking for an attorney, not signing any forms without consulting an attorney, and what to do if asked for personal information or access to email or social media accounts. There are volunteer attorneys at the major airports that may be able to assist them.

    3. International Travel for U.S. Citizens
      Iran has barred United States citizens in response to the Executive Order. Therefore, you may need to cancel or reschedule business trips to Iran.

    4. Recruiting
      Hiring employees from the seven banned countries may not be possible for the next three to four months. Check on alternate arrangements, such as hiring individuals in their home countries and providing remote access if necessary.

      The ban may prevent your company from obtaining employment visas, such as an H-1B, for individuals from the seven banned countries.

    5. Absences
      Employees who were traveling or on vacation to their home country may be delayed for extended periods. Consider placing them on a leave of absence or allowing remote access until they can return. Evaluate whether employees can remain on the company’s health insurance during the absence, to minimize the hardship to the employee or dependents.

    6. Temporary Hires
      You may need to look at hiring temporary employees to cover gaps in coverage for any employee who cannot return to the United States.

    7. Terminations
      You may have to consider involuntary terminations if employees cannot secure a return to the United States. You may also find employees that need to resign and return to their home countries in order to be with parents or spouses who are not able to return to the United States.

    8. Political Activity
      This ban may affect your employees on a personal level. You may also find others who have strong opinions one way or another. Be sure to communicate your guidelines on political discussions or activities between staff.

      Other issues include a review or development of policies to govern what happens if employees want to attend political protests during nonworking hours.

    9. Anti-harassment and Discrimination
      The ban targets Muslims. However, your company still needs to comply with nondiscrimination and anti-harassment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    10. Social Media Use

      People are sharing and finding information about the ban through social media. Review any existing social media policy usage with your employees, including emphasizing any guidelines on whether employees should or should not communicate their affiliation to the organization.

    Why the Executive Order Is Immoral and Unconstitutional

    Much has been said about this ban by many commentators. I usually would not criticize political actions in such an article and would focus instead on the impacted legal and business issues. I realize this additional commentary may be off-putting to readers and even potentially harmful for future prospects. I understand if that is your reaction and accept any subsequent consequences. However, this executive action offends core constitutional principles and values that I respect as an immigrant and as an attorney. Therefore, I cannot simply gloss over its obnoxious aspects.

    The Executive Order imposed a travel ban on people who had been approved for visas and for green-card holders. People in these categories had done nothing wrong, had not even been suspected of committing a violation, and yet had their legally earned status revoked. Graduate students, workers, and families all had their lives uprooted without a hearing or an opportunity to challenge the basis of the decision. Such effects practically scream that the Order was unjust and would very likely violate the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. And yet this Administration rushed ahead with its plans, without seeking proper legal or operational guidance about the Order’s effects.

    During the election, candidate Trump called for a ban of all Muslims traveling to the United States. Coincidentally, the Order targets seven Muslim countries. Right on the heels of issuing the Order, Trump stated that he wants to give preference to Christian refugees. Trump's statements and actions demonstrate a clear bias against a religion and its practitioners. Is that illegal in the immigration context? I am not sure. However, our civil rights laws forbid religious discrimination. Our Constitution states there shall be no religious test for public office. And yet, we are going to make adverse immigration decisions based on a person’s religion?

    The most disheartening part of this Executive Order is its effect on refugees, especially refugees from war-torn Syria. The Order suspends any refugee admissions for four months, pending a review of the security screening process. There can be case-by-case exception if jointly approved by the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security. It also cuts down the quota for refugee admissions for 2017 from 110,000 to just 50,000 and specifically prevents admission of Syrian refugees until a time that Trump determines their entry is consistent with the national interest. This means Syrian refugees may be admitted again starting around June 2017 or they may have to wait much longer.

    What was the driving force behind this decision? Has there been an outbreak of terrorist acts by refugees? According to CNN, there have zero terrorist attacks by refugees from 1980 until September 2016. In September 2016 there was one incident at Ohio State University by one Somali refugee. However, many other incidents that could be characterized as terrorist acts were not by refugees.

    And yet, one incident in 36 years is somehow sufficient for this Administration to impose a ban on refugees for four months and to reduce the overall quota by about 60,000. In reality, there are only about 20,000 spots left, because almost 30,000 have been used up since Fiscal Year 2017 began in October 2016.

    From the editor: We are aware that there may be multiple viewpoints on blog topics. We welcome submissions that may provide a counterpoint to this or any Labor and Employment Law Section Blog topic. Submissions should be sent to Julie Lewis, Blog Committee Chair, at

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