In the end, Jaleh Hojjati simply jumped into her car and drove to Canada, uncertain what immigration rules she would face when she got to there, but hoping she would be allowed to bring her 75-year-old mother back to Maine.

It was early Sunday morning, two days after a federal judge halted President Trump’s temporary immigration ban targeting seven predominantly Muslim nations. The order had left Hojjati’s mother, an Iranian national, in limbo, waiting to enter the United States with a visa that took nearly three years to secure.

An attorney in Maine sent updates to Hojjati, who was three hours into her trip when she received a text message saying that a federal appeals court had rejected the administration’s request to reinstate the temporary immigration ban that had been halted Friday. Hours later in Montreal, Hojjati was reunited with her mother. And, after spending three hours filling out paperwork at the U.S. border, they crossed into Vermont, arriving at Hojjati’s home in Falmouth on Sunday evening.

“I’m still in a state of shock. I can’t believe she made it after all of these years,” Hojjati, 50, said Monday. “I’m just so relieved. We almost gave up. There was nothing else we could do.”

Such is the uncertain state of immigration since the president’s executive order Jan. 27 suspended refugee resettlement for 120 days and temporarily banned entry of immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

The Justice Department filed a new defense of Trump’s ban with the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday. A three-judge panel is expected to hear arguments Tuesday.

Amid the legal wrangling, Portland-based immigration lawyers say they’re being flooded with questions about restrictions on visa holders and refugees, but have few solid answers about U.S. immigration policy in the days and weeks ahead. The attorneys are among many nationwide who are trying to help refugees and visa holders make their way into the United States while the Trump administration fights in the courts to reinstate its ban.

“The last week has been unbelievably chaotic,” said Cynthia Arn, an immigration attorney at the Portland law firm of Landis, Arn & Jaynes. “We’ve been getting calls from people freaking out and we weren’t able to give clear answers about what was going to happen to them.”

Arn estimated that she has roughly two dozen cases involving people from the countries targeted by Trump’s order. One of those cases involves an Iraqi man trying to reunite with his wife and children, she said.

Many are wondering whether there is a legal way to speed up the process of securing visas or becoming naturalized in case the order is reinstated and the window closes, she said.

“For some people – there’s just nothing we can do,” she said. “There’s no way to make it faster.”

Hojjati had applied to bring her parents to the U.S. nearly three years ago. She is an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who wanted to care for her aging parents, both of whom had visited the U.S. with tourist visas.

She said she had to satisfy immigration authorities that her parents would not become a financial burden and would pose no security threat to the United States. Because they were Iranian nationals, they underwent additional security clearances that prolonged the process.

Her 81-year-old father died last spring while awaiting permission to come to Maine. Her mother was in Canada to be interviewed by the U.S. Consulate, which formally issued her a visa shortly before Trump’s executive order put her in limbo.

The uncertainty around immigration enforcement is not affecting just people from the seven Muslim-majority countries.

Attorney Peter Landis, who specializes in employment-related issues around immigration, said he has been getting a flurry of calls from employers and professionals who are taking advantage of special visas for skilled professionals, including those from China and India, who are not affected by Trump’s order. Some researchers and university faculty members are nervous about traveling outside the U.S., in case Trump issues another order that affects them.

“The executive order has raised anxiety in people from all countries regarding the future of immigration in the United States,” Landis said. “And raised the level of nervousness of U.S. employers.”

According to the University of Maine in Orono, an estimated 99 UMaine faculty, staff, students and their family members were affected by Trump’s order affecting the seven countries.

Landis said agencies charged with enforcing immigration law were caught off guard by the president’s action and lacked any guidance about how to interpret the order.

Catholic Charities, which resettles refugees in Maine, also is trying to make sense of the executive order, which suspends the resettlement program for 120 days and reduces the maximum number of refugees being admitted into the U.S. each year by more than 50 percent – from 110,000 to 50,000.

“So much is up in the air right now it’s difficult to quantify the overall impact,” said Judy Katzel, the agency’s chief communication and development officer. “As you can imagine, with the shifting decisions, it can be a little bit tough to catch up.”

Katzel said Catholic Charities had planned on resettling 685 primary refugees in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. So far, the agency has resettled 218 people, including 53 Iraqis, 25 Syrians and 53 Somalis.

The Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which provides free legal help to immigrants, is helping eight people petition the U.S. government to be reunited with a spouse and/or children, Executive Director Sue Roche said. And there are 63 other people from the affected countries who are being counseled on their immigration applications.

“People are nervous right now,” she said. “It’s really only a temporary restraining order (suspending Trump’s order). … If it gets overturned, there’s certainly a lot of concern in the community.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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