Q1: What is the effect of the Presidential Executive Order that bars refugees and citizens of certain countries from entering the United States?
A1: The Executive Order generally suspends issuing visas for 90 days for Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Somalian, Sudanese, Syrian and Yemeni citizens under the US visa-waiver programme. These are all pre-dominantly Muslim countries. This includes dual-nationals, as with some of these countries you cannot surrender your citizenship. Therefore, an Irish citizen, who was born in Iraq, whether she has Iraqi citizenship or not, will be impacted by the this ban. The Executive Order also suspends the US Refugee Admissions Programme, permanently excluding Syrian refugees, and limiting refugee in-take for 2017 to 50,000 (almost half of what it was supposed to be). As seen from the news over the last number of hours, many people are being caught up in transit from this ban. Dual citizens (who are not US citizens) but who may be lawfully living in the United States, but travelling for work, are caught up in this ban. The Executive Order is nothing more than discrimination based on religion.
Q2: Does the Executive Order apply in preclearance in Irish airports?
A2: Yes, as reported yesterday, the Executive Order applies in Irish airports. The preclearance officers will apply this Executive Order. US preclearance screening operates in select locations globally (i.e. in Canada (specifically Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg), the Caribbean (specifically Freeport, Nassau, Bermuda, Aruba), Ireland (specifically Shannon and Dublin), and the United Arab Emirates (specifically Abu Dhabi International Airport)).The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gained a stay on deporting persons stopped from entering the United States due to the the executive order. This only impacts those on US territory.
Q3: Does Irish law apply in preclearance areas in Irish airports?
A3: Irish law governs the operation of preclearance areas in Irish airports by the Aviation (Preclearance) Act 2009 and 2011 Regulations. The 2009 Act gives effect to the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Ireland on Air Transport Preclearance (Preclearance Agreement 2008). It is important to note that the Agreement between the US and Ireland cannot be directly relied upon by individuals in Irish courts. While the full text of the agreement is set out in the 2009 Act, this is “for convenience of reference”. Irish courts have previously interpreted “convenience of reference phrases” to mean that the international agreement is NOT part of Irish law. Nevertheless, Article II(1) of the Preclearance Agreement 2008, provides:
“Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed as diminishing the rights enjoyed by individuals under the Constitution and laws of Ireland”.
This phrasing is not utilized in the Aviation (Preclearance) Act 2009. However, we would submit that as with any legislation, it must be interpreted considering the State’s obligations to protection human rights, in particular under the Constitution and the ECHR Act 2003.
Q4: What powers do preclearance officers have in Dublin and Shannon Airports?
A4: Preclearance officers have a significant number of powers set down in section 5 of the 2009 Act. These include search and detention (for a limited period of time) powers. Preclearance officers can refuse entry onto an aircraft to a person who is “found to be ineligible for entry into the United States.” This includes operating the discriminatory Executive Order.
Q5: Are Irish officials involved in the operation of preclearance areas?
A5: Yes. As provided for under the 2009 Act, Gardaí and members of Customs and Excise may be involved in supporting the exercise of powers and duties of preclearance officers in the preclearance areas.
The Irish Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanaghan, has issued a statement expressing concerns about the changes in US immigration policy. The claim that this is solely an issue of US immigration and refugee policy is wholly incorrect given Ireland’s involvement in pre-clearance procedures in Dublin and Shannon Airports.
Q6: What rights do people have under Irish law if they are refused preclearance in Dublin and Shannon Airports?
A6: Where an individual is refused preclearance and not permitted to fly to the United States, then Irish immigration officials will accompany that person. The person refused is then at the “frontiers of the State”. Therefore, a person refused preclearance due to the US Executive Order then has rights to request entry to Ireland, including (of course depending on the situation) a potential right to claim international protection (refugee or subsidiary protection) in Ireland. Ireland also has an obligation not to return that person to a country (which may or may not be the country they boarded an initial flight to Ireland) where they face a serious chance of being persecuted or tortured. This is known as the duty of non-refoulement.
Q7: Might the application of the Executive Order at preclearance in Dublin and Shannon Airports be unlawful per se?
A7: It is arguable that this is the case.
First, Ireland continues to have international legal obligations in relation to preclearance areas as they are within the jurisdiction and territory of the state. These legal obligations CANNOT be set aside by its Preclearance Agreement with the United States. These obligations may mainly emerge from the equality guarantees in the Irish constitution and Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Second, where the Executive Order impacts on EU citizens (including Irish citizens) with dual citizenship Article 18 TFEU may be engaged. This prohibits discrimination based on nationality for EU citizens, and likely prohibits the facilitation by state officials (including immigration officials) of discriminatory actions of US preclearance officers.
Third, it is arguable that s. 42 of the IHREC Act 2014 applies. This requires a public body “in the performance of its functions” to “have regard to the need to…eliminate discrimination…protect the human rights of its members, staff and the persons to whom it provides services”. The Act defines a public body as (inter alia) “a Department of State…for which a Minister of the Government is responsible” (excluding the Defence Forces). This, thus, includes the Gardaí and Customs and Excise, which as already noted assist in the administration of the preclearance areas and the application of their powers and duties by preclearance officers.
Please write to your local T.D and let the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission know that you believe they should exercise their powers to investigate preclearance procedures in Dublin and Shannon Airports.