'Southern Philippines' next in Trump's travel ban?

TRUMP. File photo of then President-elect Donald Trump in November 2016 in New Jersey.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

(4th UPDATE) Filipinos in Mindanao, watch out and continue monitoring updates.

Hammond Law Group LLC, a 26-year-old law firm in the United States, said a revised executive order (EO) by US President Donald Trump might include the southern Philippines in the controversial travel ban.

"Hammond Law Group LLC has learned that a draft of an Executive Order modifying President Trump's January 25, 2017 Executive Order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, is currently being circulated for review," the firm said on Wednesday, February 1.

"This Executive Order, if signed, may add the following countries to the travel ban implemented on January 25th: Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela, southern Philippines, trans-Sahara (Mali), and Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral. We believe the new Executive Order may be published within the next two weeks," the law firm said.

It's not clear how those coming from the southern Philippines will be distinguished when they, along with the rest of Filipinos, hold just one Philippine passport.

In a statement on February 3, however, the US Department of Homeland Security said that no other countries have "been identified as warranting future inclusion at this time, contrary to false reports."

In a February 2 tweet, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) National also said it has "no confirmation of additional countries being added to travel ban. We will continue to update."

On its website, AILA likewise referred to information it reportedly got from the US Department of State (DOS).

"In response to rumors of plans to expand the travel ban to other countries, DOS informed AILA that there is no addendum, annex, or amendment now being worked on to expand visa revocations or the travel ban to countries other than those currently implicated in the Executive Order entitled, 'Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.' This includes Colombia and Venezuela which have been widely rumored to be under consideration," AILA said.

"DOS confirmed that there is no information that supports such a rumor and asked that AILA members help end the spread of this false information," the group added.

Extreme caution

The source of the initial information, Hammond Law Group, is an immigration law firm in Cincinnati, Ohio, according to its website. Its corporate clients "range from Fortune 100 companies to progressive startups." Founded in 1991, firm regularly issues immigration alerts on its website, www.hammondlawgroup.com.

In its immigration alert updated on February 1, Hammond Law Group cautioned, "Nothing has been confirmed but, the information has come from a very credible source, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)" – a claim that AILA has denied.

Hammond Law Group also said: "Until more information is known, we advise anyone from one of these countries NOT to travel outside of the US. If you are outside of the US. and have a visa appointment, we advise you to keep that appointment and upon visa issuance, travel into the US. as quickly as possible. We will continue to keep you updated as developments occur."

Given the manner in which the travel ban was implemented and the way it was announced without advanced notice, "not to mention the lack of guidance with regard to how it was to be enforced," it said the firm has no choice but to suggest that "nationals from any country on this new list (without regard to their immigration status) refrain from traveling outside the US until such time as we know more about this proposed Executive Order."

"It is entirely possible that this information is either inaccurate or incomplete; however, the severe consequences of being denied re-entry into the US would suggest extreme caution is justified at this time," the law firm warned. 

Not a 'country of concern'?

A Filipino professor who holds an immigrant status in the US shared with Rappler that he had been advised by lawyers to apply for American citizenship and not leave the US until he attains that status. The professor was given the warning that if he left now, he might not be allowed to return to his family in the US because he traces his roots to Mindanao. 

The conflicting reports have prompted a wave of worry and concern, even as US State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner already pointed out on Wednesday that Trump's original EO did not label the Philippines a country "of concern".

Trump's EO suspended the arrival of refugees for at least 120 days, and for the next 3 months, barred visas for travelers from 7 Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. 

During his campaign, however, Trump had tagged the Philippines a "terrorist nation" along with at least 8 other countries.

While parts of Mindanao have suffered terrorist activities, most of it remains safe. The southern Philippines is the turf of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the first president from Mindanao. – Paterno Esmaquel II, with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com