Immigration Law Firms Gear Up For Newest Version of Travel Ban

Immigration-focused law firms may not longer be in crisis mode, but on the eve of the Trump Administration’s “Travel Ban 2.0,” they were gearing up for more uncertainty.

The ban, which prohibits for 90 days travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, was partially reinstated by the Supreme Court on Monday. The justices exempted people who have “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” to enter the country. For all others, the provisions went into effect Thursday night.

In February, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy’s chief audit and privacy officer told Big Law Business that the original ban, which came with little warning, was “much like a natural disaster.” He said the firm had entered full crisis management mode to keep clients up-to-date and deliver pro bono services to travelers stranded at U.S. airports.

We caught up with lawyers at Fragomen, an AmLaw 100 firm, and Berry Appleman & Leiden (BAL), which also specializes in immigration, to see how they’re adapting to the latest policy change.

“This is not the kind of development that causes the same sort of earthquake like shift in a law firm as last time, but there are a lot of very important unanswered questions,” said Fragomen partner Bo Cooper, who leads the firm’s government strategies and compliance group.

An advisory cable released by the State Department clarified that the relationship to the US must be “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course.” But it left questions about what might happen to a traveler with an invitation to a business meeting in the United States, or someone in the process of applying to a U.S. school who has not yet been admitted, according to Cooper.

But Cooper said Fragomen is no longer in crisis mode, and that the firm has since adapted its communications strategies to consolidate information and reach clients in a faster way. “We certainly learned some lessons,” he said.

The Supreme Court’s decision to limit travel to those with “bona fide” relationship has also left immigration lawyers at BAL to their best judgment.

“There’s no parallel to that [language] in the immigration world,” said BAL partner Jeffrey Gorsky, a former State Department attorney. “No one had ever seen that before.”

And, like the previous changes from the Trump Administration and the lower courts, the Supreme Court’s ruling has left the firm little time to understand policy changes before they take effect, according to partner Lynden Melmed.

“Normally, government policy and immigration policy moves very slow,” said Melmed, who formerly served as chief counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security. “Both we and the companies are having to adapt in a time frame that, for my 20 years [in this field], is unheard of.”

Luckily, the firm was better prepared this time, according to Melmed. “The one benefit that we have at this stage in the process is we know the scope of the travelers who may be subject,” he said. “We have data and we’ve worked with clients to understand their employee populations. With the first version, we were scrambling to understand who might be impacted.”
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