Airlines Scramble to Adjust to Trump’s New World

Carriers seek clarity as passenger lawyers say American border officers are pressuring green card holders.

Were Airlines Blindsided By Trump Travel Ban?

As new U.S. travel rules plunged several large American airports into chaos, lawyers for some travelers who are long-term legal residents said the government had urged them to relinquish their status as a requirement for reentering the country. 

This was among the more curious developments over a weekend in which a Trump administration order restricting entry into America was met with condemnation abroad and furious protests at home. The official U.S. document, Form I-407, “record of abandonment of lawful permanent resident status,” was distributed on several aircraft that landed this weekend at Los Angeles International Airport, said Rachel Odio, an immigration lawyer with pro-bono law firm Public Counsel. Other travelers saw the forms after they had been detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees in the airport, she said.

U.S. DHS

Public Counsel assisted about 50 travelers detained at LAX since the Trump’s executive order was issued Friday. Several federal courts subsequently temporarily restricted full enforcement of the ban as constitutional challenges move forward.

The CBP didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, including calls and emails to several spokespersons around the country.

“It’s absurd. There’s no legal basis for it,” Odio said of the requests to renounce residency. Because many of the forms are being signed “under duress” in isolated airport rooms without access to family, attorney representation, or even food, “there is definitely a strong argument that their signature is without consent.”

Airlines seeking clarity

Trump imposed the travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. The policy didn’t include several nations with ties to past U.S. terror attacks or where Trump’s companies do business, including Egypt, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. 

On Monday, Trump attempted to blame the upheaval on a technical glitch at Delta Air Lines Inc., though the glitch occurred two full days after his order was issued and after protests had begun. Delta didn’t respond to Bloomberg’s queries about the president’s comment. 

The International Association of Air Transport (IATA) said the executive order “placed additional burdens on airlines to comply with unclear requirements” and imposed implementation costs and penalties. IATA is seeking “clarity” from the U.S. administration. “Moreover, we urge all governments to provide sufficient advance coordination of changes in entry requirements so that travelers can clearly understand them and airlines can efficiently implement them,” the Geneva-based group said in a statement.

Lufthansa spokeswoman Christina Semmel said the travel changes have caused only “a few recorded cases” whereby the airline hasn’t allowed a customer to travel to the U.S. “Customers who have been affected by these new regulations are offered a free rebooking or are given a full refund,” she wrote in an e-mail. A New York-based spokeswoman for British Airways, Michele Kropf, said none of the carrier’s customers had been refused entry to the U.S. due to the order. Emirates, which said it has changed some flight staffing to comply with the U.S. requirements, is offering refund and travel rebooking options for people affected.

In a statement, Air France said it was “obliged to offload 15 passengers” from nations subject to the U.S. decree, while KLM informed seven passengers on Saturday that they could not fly to the U.S. “Air France's main concern is to protect its customers, including the possible consequences of arriving in a country they are not allowed to enter, and to limit the inconvenience caused to them by the decision of the U.S. authorities,” the airline said. KLM, its sister carrier under the same ownership group, said it “regrets the inconvenience caused to its passengers who were confronted with this sudden change of circumstances.”

Green card question

Ally Bolour, an immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, said he was told by one traveler from a Qatar Airways Ltd. flight from Doha that U.S. officials had distributed the 407 forms before passengers disembarked. He said attorneys at the airport had tried to circulate word to passengers not to sign the forms. “Nobody I had talked to who had come through [immigration] had signed,” Bolour said on Monday, calling the situation “highly, highly unusual.” A spokeswoman for Qatar Airways didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

A counter-protester, right, holds a sign and chants in front of other demonstrators outside Los Angeles International Airport, on Jan. 29, 2017.

A counter-protester, right, holds a sign and chants in front of other demonstrators outside Los Angeles International Airport, on Jan. 29, 2017. 

Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg

Several travelers at LAX also reported that customs officials had asked a variety of questions about their travel, including one about Trump, Bolour said. “The one question that stuck out to them was ‘Do you like Trump?’” he said. “It’s very bizarre. But that was a question.”

On Sunday, the Trump administration slightly loosened the restrictions for those with long-term U.S. resident status, saying those travelers would be admitted subject to “case-by-case determinations.”

“When you’re an LTR (long-term resident) you present your passport, you present your green card and they say ‘Welcome home,’” Bolour said. “That’s what’s supposed to happen.”

It was unclear exactly why the U.S. would seek to reduce the number of long-term residents, many of whom obtained green cards through marriage. “I have no idea why the government would be trying to have these people sign these forms except maybe to reduce the number of those people from these countries who reside in the U.S.,” Odio said. “It’s really terrifying.”

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