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Turbulence ahead: Navigating the travel ban

Less than two weeks into the new administration, shockwaves are being created at the nation’s airports over last week’s executive order to ban travel into the U.S. by refugees or by citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The order targets three groups: refugees from any country, who are blocked from entering the United States for the next 120 days; refugees from Syria, who are barred indefinitely; and citizens from the aforementioned seven countries, who are precluded from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

Fallout from the order has been swift and widespread. Protests at airports across the country have erupted, some peaceful and others not so much. And no end to them appears to be in sight, which is exactly what airports already reeling from the recent active shooter situation in Fort Lauderdale don’t need right now. 

Even with the White House clarifying Sunday that green card holders are not included in the ban, confusion on how to enforce it reigns among customs and border patrol officers. Treatment of those potentially impacted by the ban has ranged from detention at airports for long hours, without access to legal representation or food and water, to no enforcement at all. Democrats are drafting legislation to overturn the ban, and Hollywood did its usual part to fan the flames with blistering attacks on the policy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards show.

What’s really important right now is getting clarity around what the ban actually means in practical terms, and who is responsible for enforcement. And to do it right now, before things start to get really out of hand. In the meantime, here’s a few thoughts for organizations impacted by this order:

  • Airports of all sizes should be considering what to do about ongoing protests at their locations and how to work closely with police to make sure they are ready in case crowds get too large to manage or things get violent;
  • Airlines, even carriers with only domestic operations, should be thinking about what their role needs to be in terms of screening passengers and working with customs and border patrols, who are similarly trying to find out what constitutes a violation and what does not;
  • Companies employing citizens of the impacted seven nations should be working closely with them to reassess any travel plans outside of the U.S., for them or their families, and paying close attention to any new information or clarification on the ban from government officials;
  • Universities with significant student populations from the impacted nations need to work with students to understand their travel plans and help them navigate when, or if, they can return home on break and not risk disrupting their education.

With all that as a backdrop after three days, just think what the next 87 days of the initial ban might bring.

Dix & Eaton counsels clients on these matters including a number of companies in the aviation industry as well as major and regional airports.  To discuss these and other crisis communications issues, please give me a call or email me and I’ll get back to you right away.

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