No one, it seems, remembered Canada.
President Donald Trump’s far-reaching executive order imposing new bans on refugees and some legal immigrants spread alarm among Canadian officials who scrambled to find out how their citizens could be affected.
Canada has long had a special arrangement with the United States that allows its citizens to visit America without a visa. But Trump’s order, issued Friday has been interpreted to include people with dual nationalities if one of those nationalities is from any of the seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. So, in theory, a Canadian citizen of Iranian descent could suddenly be barred from entering the United States.
On Sunday, the Canadian Embassy in Washington confirmed that it had been given the all-clear: the dual nationality restrictions in the new order would not apply to people with Canadian citizenship.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked his national security adviser, Daniel Jean, to touch base with Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to seek clarification.
“NSA Flynn confirmed that holders of Canadian passports, including dual citizens, will not be affected by the ban,” the embassy said in a statement. “We have been assured that Canadian citizens traveling on Canadian passports will be dealt with in the usual process.”
The subject is sensitive for multiple reasons. Canada and the United States are major trade partners, and each provides the other with numerous tourists every year. And for many people who immigrate to either country, especially refugees from the seven targeted Muslim-majority states, it’s normal to have relatives in both Canada and the United States.
The fact that Canadian officials were scrambling to figure out how the U.S. move would affect them underscored the haphazard way in which the executive order came out. Within the U.S. government, officials in agencies such as the State Department, which must help implement the order, were given little to no input by White House officials who drafted it, according to multiple sources.
The result has been confusion about how the order applies on multiple levels. For instance, the order doesn’t contain the phrase “dual nationals.” It just says “foreign nationals.” But, for now, U.S. officials have decided that includes dual nationals. And it’s not entirely clear on what legal basis Canadian dual nationals are exempt.
Also unclear is why Canadian officials were only able to get confirmation from Flynn. POLITICO has repeatedly asked the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security how Canadians are affected, but has been either ignored or told that those agencies are still seeking clarity themselves.
Canada’s willingness to ramp up its refugee admissions, especially for Syrians, has raised some concerns among Republican lawmakers in the United States who worry that terrorists will use the refugee program to reach Canada, then cross over to America. Last year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) held a hearing to probe Canada’s security measures.
Trudeau, the telegenic prime minister some are comparing to former U.S. President Barack Obama, has championed the notion of helping refugees, and he has a lot of support within his country.
As word spread of Trump’s executive order, which bans Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely and pauses the admission of all other refugees, Trudeau wasn’t shy about making his views clear.
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau tweeted Saturday.