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February 20, 2018

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Trump’s travel ban, border wall spark controversy: Locals fight back

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Steve Marcus

DACA recipients and supporters rally near the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017.

Dreamer and TPS News Conference

A woman holds up signs during a Launch slideshow »

President Donald Trump’s third and most recent travel ban, known officially as “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” restricts travel and immigration to the U.S. for both native citizens and residents of eight primarily Islamic-based foreign countries across Africa, Asia and South America.

In effect since Oct. 18, the travel ban lists North Korea, Venezuela, Chad, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Syria and Somalia, blocking an estimated 60,000-90,000 would-be visitors and immigrants. It does not have an expiration date and can be revised to add or remove countries. Trump’s latest travel ban succeeded two previous executive orders issued in January and March, both of which faced immediate lawsuits.

While restrictions against some countries, like Syria and North Korea, block all types of visas, other nations like Venezuela and Somalia face lesser limitations. After originally being included in previous travel bans, Sudan was taken off the list for what the U.S. State Department called “serious” strides toward “cooperating with the United States.”

"Immigrants are good for our country"

Viewed as the most legal version of the travel restrictions to date, Trump’s travel ban was still in limbo after being tied up in the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple lower courts in Hawaii and Maryland.

But on Dec. 4, after months of deliberation, the Supreme Court ruled to let the ban take full effect for the immediate future. Passed with only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, Trump’s third and most recent travel ban can be enforced while challenges make their way through the legal system.

With 3,700-5,000 annual Las Vegas visitors banned, our economy stands to lose $3.1 million to $4.1 million, based on the average spending of about $750 to $850 per tourist, according to data from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

And of the 17,000 to 20,000 likely immigrants from seven of the eight countries that won’t be able to come to the United States, about 150-200 would likely have immigrated to Nevada, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Cutbacks on immigration, according to Peter Boogaard of Fwd.us — a bipartisan immigration advocacy organization founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and DropBox CEO Drew Houston, among others — is “against what the United States was founded on,” and hurts the future of both innovation and culture in our nation.

“These are the people who can really be economic drivers,” said Boogaard, a former Department of Homeland Security press secretary. “Immigrants are good for our country, good for our economy and good for our community.”

By the numbers

• 3,700-5,000: Number of likely travelers to Las Vegas directly affected

• 60,000 to 90,000: Number of likely travelers to the U.S. directly affected

• 150 to 200: Number of likely immigrants to Nevada directly affected

• 17,000-20,000: Number of likely immigrants to the U.S. directly affected

Multiple federal appeals were scheduled to arguments on the Dec. 4 ruling. If successfully appealed, the travel ban could return to the Supreme Court for a ruling by June.

But for the time being, Trump’s travel ban 3.0 is likely “set in stone,” Boogaard said.

Border Wall

While President Trump has yet to begin construction on his proposed “big, beautiful” wall to cover about 1,300 miles along the nation's southern border with Mexico, officials in October unveiled eight 30-foot tall prototypes of the proposed barrier on San Diego borderlands near Tijuana. Trump has not offered a firm start date for construction of the wall, but said work has already begun in the form of repairing flaws of current fence structures along the border.

His biggest challenges? Funding the wall and obtaining land rights to construct it. Senate Democrats estimated in April the project would cost almost $70 billion to build and an additional $150 million annually to maintain. A homeland security spending bill released by Senate Republicans on Nov. 21 includes only $1.6 billion for “physical barriers” and roads along the border. Mexican leaders repeatedly have denied claims that Mexico would pay for the wall.

Former President George W. Bush’s administration experienced the tricky battle of eminent domain when trying to expand 670 miles of fencing along the border in 2008. After attempting to seize an acre of land from unwilling Texas resident Eloisa Tamez, the federal government spent five years in court before being awarded the land in 2013. With nearly two-thirds of the land for Trump’s proposed wall crossing over private or state land, experts anticipate similar struggles.

H-1B visa program

The H1-B visa allows foreign workers temporary employment in the U.S. for “specialty” and “high-skilled” occupations that require a bachelor’s degree or higher — including modeling, hospitality, technology and engineering. Almost 1.8 million H-1B visas were distributed from fiscal year 2001 through 2015, according to the Pew Research Center. The number of annual applications grew more than five-fold from a little more than 100,000 in 2010 to more than 570,000 in 2016, according to H-1B information website myvisajobs.com.

The visas are distributed to employers on a first-come, first-served basis, and applications are accepted each year beginning in April. If the number of H-1B applications exceeds an annual cap set by Congress during the first five business days of April, the visas are given out through a lottery system.

The effects of a potential Trump rollback on the program could hurt Las Vegas’ goal of becoming a tech hub, as a reduced number of highly skilled international employees would both reduce tech jobs as a whole and the number of qualified employees available for hire, according to Peter Boogaard of Fwd.us.

“High-skilled H-1B visa employees in the STEM field, for example, create an additional 2.1 new jobs in the U.S.,” Boogaard said. “These are the best and brightest from around the world, and they’re a big part of what makes our companies the best in the world.”

Boogaard added that without access to these high-skilled employees, some U.S.-based companies — especially in technology — would be more incentivized to move to other nations like India.

“There are labor shortages here that need to be filled,” he said. “It’s an advantage to be able to bring in those workers.”

What’s being done locally to help?

Grassroots efforts in the Las Vegas Valley have intensified in response to President Trump’s executive orders. There have been rallies and marches passionately pleading with lawmakers to act on immigration, but also information forums to try to quell some of the anxieties of those who’ve been left with an uncertain future. In the forums, advocates have updated attendees on current policies, and immigration attorneys have been available to take questions and provide private, free consultations.

A regular at the events is Erika Castro, a 28-year-old DACA recipient and advocate with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. In a recent press conference in front of the federal courthouse in Las Vegas organized by the Service Employees International Union, she said, “It’s cruel to leave 1.2 million people, all Dreamers and TPS recipients, wondering what their future will look like in the coming months.”

Immigrants should not be political pawns, she said. “For the past 70 days (since the Trump administration rescinded DACA), we have been urging Congress to fix the problem they created.”

Since 2012, José Lopez has been involved in the advocate circles, performing outreach on behalf of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and now the Culinary Union. “I think that with TPS, someone fought for us to have it; now it’s time for us to defend it.”

About those who may not be in imminent danger of losing their status, he said, “Come out to support us: If you’re a citizen, a legal resident, a TPS recipient, come out and say ‘I have TPS.’ We TPS recipients have to become more visible.”

Immigrants who lose their legal status might have options, and they should consult an attorney, advocates say. They should retain an attorney, who they should carefully vet to make sure they’re not ripped off, attorney Hardeep Sull said.

When Sull presented a “know your rights” talk at the forum and asked those who were afraid to raise their hand, several hands shot up in the air.

Even if they’re not legal, immigrants are still afforded rights in the United States, she said, and they should feel empowered to respectfully confront enforcement agents. An important right is to remain silent and not answer questions, to request an attorney if they are detained and to not sign anything without the presence of a lawyer.

“Are we feeling a little more empowered?” Sull said at the end of her presentation. “Are you feeling confident? Because I know it’s not easy to confront an officer.

“Remember, it’s not always personal, it’s their job. You don’t have to agree with their order, but it’s their order.”