February 2, 2017

Doctors sue Trump administration over travel ban

Daily Briefing

A Cleveland Clinic resident who was barred from entering the United States on Saturday because of President Trump's travel ban filed a lawsuit against the president and his administration on Tuesday, claiming Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials unlawfully coerced her into leaving the country.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Carol Amon issued a "show cause" order notifying the government that she is assessing whether to reinstate the visa of the resident, Suha Abushamma. Amon has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 15.

Background on the travel ban

Trump signed the executive order on Friday afternoon. The order:

  • Blocks individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days, with exceptions for naturalized U.S. citizens;
  • Suspends refugee entry from all countries for 120 days;
  • Suspends Syrian refugee resettlement indefinitely; and
  • Cuts in half the total number of refugees permitted to enter in 2017, with prioritization for those who are "religious minorities" in their respective countries.

Trump said the order is intended to "kee[p] our country safe" and reduce terrorism.

At 8:45 p.m. Saturday evening, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly issued a temporary stay on a portion of the order, ruling that refugees or visa holders held at U.S. airports under the policy could not be deported. Litigation is ongoing.

On Sunday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly in a statement said in applying the order, he deemed "the entry of lawful permanent residents"—green card holders—"to be in the national interest." A DHS official said green card holders would be allowed back in the United States if they don't have links to terrorism or an extensive criminal history.

Details on Abushamma's lawsuit

Abushamma is a first-year internal medicine resident at Cleveland Clinic and holds an H-1B visa for employees in "specialty occupations." On Saturday, Abushamma, who has a Sudanese passport, was detained in a New York airport after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia. 

Doctors, hospitals scrambling after Trump's travel ban

In an interview with ProPublica, Abushamma said CPB agents gave her the option of forfeiting her visa and leaving America voluntarily or being forcibly deported, which would have barred her entry from the United States for a minimum of five years. Abushamma said she was told to sign a form that required her to return to Saudi Arabia, when the form would actually cancel her visa.  

Abushamma was denied requests for a delay and for a lawyer, the lawsuit states. After signing the form, she was allowed to make a phone call and was then put on a plane back to Saudi Arabia that departed at 8:53 p.m. on Saturday, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightAware.

On Tuesday, lawyers representing Abushamma filed suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, seeking a writ of habeas corpus and an order permitting Abushamma's reentry to the United States.

The lawsuit claims Abushamma was denied access to a lawyer and forced to leave the country after Donnelly issued a stay Saturday night barring officials from removing anyone who arrived in the United States with a work visa from countries named in Trump's executive order. According to the lawsuit, Donnelly in court told the government's attorneys that she was going to block the executive order, adding, "I'm going to direct you, if there's somebody right now who is in danger of being removed, I am going to direct you to communicate that I have imposed a stay. Nobody is to be removed in this class."

The lawsuit states that Donnelly's instructions were delivered after Abushamma boarded the plane, and after the plane had pushed away from the gate—but before the plane had taken off. The lawsuit adds that once the order was blocked, at least one other plane with someone turned away under the order was called back to the gate so the affected individual could remain in the United States.

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Moreover, the lawsuit contends that Trump's travel executive order "exhibits hostility to a specific religious faith, Islam, and gives preference to other religious faiths, principally Christianity."

Cleveland Clinic expresses support for resident

In a court filing, Abby Spencer, internal medicine residency program director at the Cleveland Clinic, said Abushamma played a valuable role at the Clinic. "Since matriculating to the program in July, she has been a stand-out physician and colleague," Spencer wrote.

Noting that Abushamma's patients would be negatively affected if she does not return to the United States, Spencer added, "[Abushamma] has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated the utmost ethical standards and continued to prioritize patient needs." Spencer continued, "I fully support without reservation Dr. Abushamma to be allowed to continue her training with our Program at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio."

Chicago doctor also files suit

Separately, Amer Al Homssi, a medical resident at Christ Hospital in Chicago, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order. Al Homssi was born in Syria, holds a United Arab Emirates passport, and was working in the United States under a J-1 student visa.

Al Homssi said U.S. officials at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates barred him from his flight back to the United States on Sunday because he was born in Syria. He had been out of the country, in the Middle East, to get married. The lawsuit claims that Homssi was prevented from returning to the United States because he is "member of the Muslim faith that is now being treated differently in the United States" (Domeck, Fox 8, 1/31; Goudie, ABC 7, 1/31; Gerstein, "Under the Radar," Politico, 2/1; Ornstein, ProPublica, 1/29; Heisig, Cleveland.com, 1/31; Ornstein, ProPublica, 2/1).

Navigating the first 100 days of the Trump administration

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Since Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, health care reform has since quickly risen to the top of the GOP's policy agenda—and heath care executives are grappling with a new sense of uncertainty.

While many unknowns will remain across the next few months and potentially even years, the first 100 days of the Trump administration will provide significant insight into the direction of reform efforts. Read our briefing to learn what five key issues you should watch.

Download the briefing

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