Confusion characterizes KC-area business response to Trump’s immigration order

Immigration attorney Mira Mdivani is helping clients consider possible ramifications of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.
Immigration attorney Mira Mdivani is helping clients consider possible ramifications of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order.

President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration cast confusion across federal agencies and international airports, and all the way down to a small tech company in Kansas City, Kan.

Joel Teply, CEO and developer of 5-year-old tech firm Cambrian, said he lost sleep over the weekend worrying about one of his Iranian employees who is in the United States on a student visa.

Trump’s order last Friday suspended refugee admissions into the United States and blocked entry of citizens from seven Middle Eastern and northeast African countries, including Iran.

Teply said his Iranian employee worries about whether she can travel home to see family and, if she does, whether she could return to the United States to resume work and studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“We’re frankly worried if she’s going to be able to remain in the country,” Teply said.

The employee declined to be identified or to speak publicly.

“This has all happened in the first week” of the Trump administration, Teply said. “It all seemed very irresponsible and idiotic.”

The case of Teply’s employee is emblematic of the confusion facing businesses and immigrants in the United States who aren’t sure what Trump’s immigration executive order means, how it applies to them or what next steps an administration that has pledged more secure borders and “extreme vetting” of immigrants might take.

Trump’s order banned entry of citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations — Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Syria — for 90 days and suspended admissions of refugees for 120 days. Refugees from civil war-torn Syria are barred indefinitely. Federal judges issued temporary stays of parts of Trump’s executive order, delaying the deportation of people detained in airports over the weekend.

There was uncertainty over the weekend about whether holders of green cards from the seven affected countries could enter the United States. The White House on Sunday backtracked on parts of the executive orders, clarifying that green card holders would not be denied entry into the United States.

Mira Mdivani, an immigration attorney in Kansas City, said she has advised business clients that anyone potentially falling under Trump’s order should avoid international travel.

“If you think about it from a civil liberties point of view, one of the advantages of the United States is the freedom to travel we enjoy,” Mdivani said. “By imposing these restrictions on people here legally, we’ve taken away their liberty to travel.”

At the Polsinelli law firm, immigration attorney Jeff Bell said he’s advising corporate clients that if they have employees from any of the seven countries, they definitely should not travel out of the United States at this time.

Any advice gets fuzzier if the employees are from countries beyond the seven, such as countries that have predominantly Muslim populations.

“The executive order makes it clear that additional countries might be added,” Bell said. Fear of abrupt expansion of the order is of great concern to both employees and employers who could be affected, he said.

For workers with dual citizenship, Bell said, they should travel using U.S. passports, if they must leave the United States.

Another effect of the executive order, Bell said, is that it put a hold on the processing of immigration benefit applications, including the granting of work visa applications or extensions and residence applications.

“This will have an impact on employers looking to sponsor H1-B work authorizations,” Bell said. “And it could definitely apply to graduates wanting work permits to stay in the United States.”

Kansas City economist Chris Kuehl, writing in his daily economic newsletter, said, “There was confusion from the start as it appeared that green card-carrying migrants would be banned, and they are perfectly legal residents of the US. There was also confusion about what to do with those who have dual citizenship.”

Kuehl wrote that the “business community was taken by surprise, and many of their key employees were suddenly banned from the U.S. — a particular problem for high-tech and medical sectors.”

Some companies appeared to take the executive order in stride.

At Cerner, senior communications manager Dan Smith said the health care technology company expected little impact on its operations.

Smith said, in part, that Cerner remains “committed to recruiting and employing the world’s best talent on behalf of our clients around the globe. We’ll monitor this and other planned or possible regulatory changes, and we’ll continue to work closely with the administration to help shape meaningful health care policy in the future.”

Other companies in town were still evaluating the executive order.

“Our position on the immigration order is that Black & Veatch always complies with federal laws and regulations,” said Black & Veatch spokesman George Minter in an email. “We are currently evaluating the potential effects of the order.”

Steve Vockrodt: 816-234-4277, @st_vockrodt

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford