Don’t be wronged, know your rights: ACLU informs students on immigration

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) were on campus Wednesday to inform students about their rights under the executive order signed by President Donald Trump. The injunction temporarily suspends people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States and halts the Syrian refugee program indefinitely.

Cali Kohn and Nikiya Natale, both attorneys who specialize in discrimination issues, gave an overview of the travel sanctions and informed the audience about what was going on in federal court. They explained the rights people have as travelers in international airports. 

Kohn informed how the executive order was being addressed in the U.S. courts.  Federal Judge James Roberts issued a temporary injunction against the travel sanctions. Kohn also explained the different lawsuits that are being brought by organizations that claim the executive order is unconstitutional, in violation of the First Amendment, due process and other statutory authorities. She said those claims have not been ruled on in the courts, but that the cases will be addressed in the following weeks. 

Kohn also explained that ACLU and affiliates across the country have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with local Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) asking how the individual offices are interpreting the executive order and enforcing it at airports. 

“What we have seen on the ground is that different airports are interpreting the executive order in different ways, meaning that different people are subject to different levels of scrutiny. Different people are having different experiences traveling through the airport,” said Kohn.

The petition from the ACLU is seeking transparency and trying to determine how the executive order is being interpreted by officials and how it’s being interpreted by the public through protests and petitions. 

Natale addressed the rights people have when traveling to the United States and addressed immigration issues that are being questioned through the executive order. One of the situations that Natale addressed was how to seek help from the right people. She advised travelers who are unsure of their status in the United States to look for legal help from people they can trust and to be aware of scammers who are looking to take advantage of the situation. 

Natale recommended consulting an attorney before making any travel plans. She advised those with green cards to apply for citizenship so they can receive the rights and protections of the Constitution. She also recommended those with visas or green cards not to do anything that could jeopardize their status. 

Natale noted that, by knowing their rights, people empower themselves to get past their fear of traveling. She specified several things that authorities can and cannot do and what a traveler should and should not say. 

One of the many rights travelers have is to request alternative screening; to be patted down by an officer of the same gender. They may also request a private screening where they can bring a family member or friend. They may be asked to remove religious garb, like a hijab, if TSA agents determine additional screening is necessary. 

One of the other rights Natale discussed was that, as a U.S. citizen, a person has the absolute right to enter the country. She explained that sometimes there could be a secondary inspection, which is more common for Muslim travelers, but explained what CBP agents can and cannot do. 

She clarified that CBP agents can question citizenship, the nature of a traveler’s trip and inspect anything brought back into the United States, including baggage. CBP agents cannot target a person for additional screening or ask questions based on their racial or ethnic profile. 

They cannot ask questions without probable cause or ask about personal life, where one spends time, works or worships, and cannot handcuff travelers, strip them of or confiscate electronic property from them without inventory. 

Natale encouraged travelers to assert their rights and if someone feels they are being discriminated against to file complaints with the relevant agencies and, for those who are Muslim, to call the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).