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Federal judge halts President’s immigration order

A woman protests in a demonstration at Market Square, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, in Cleveland. The demonstration was organized in protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration order. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

February 04, 2017

A Seattle-based federal judge on Friday dealt a major blow to President Trump’s executive order on travel and refugees, ordering a nationwide ban on enforcement of the controversial order.

The temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge James Robart blocks the federal government from enforcing portions of the executive order that include a ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens from seven Muslim-majority and an indefinite halt of resettlement of Syrian refugees in the country.

The White House issued a statement late Friday saying the Justice Department “intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President.”

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” the statement read.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Trump’s order three days after it was signed, arguing that the order hurt Washington residents and businesses and undercut the state’s efforts to make itself welcoming to immigrants and refugees.

Judge Robart’s ruling blocks enforcement of the week-old order while the lawsuit proceeds in court. An appeal of the decision is all but certain given the high-profile battles the Trump administration has already waged over it.

But in the meantime, Mr. Ferguson said he expected federal officials would comply with the judge’s order, meaning that Customs and Border Protection could no longer enforce the travel restrictions.

“That relief is significant, to put it mildly,” said Ferguson, a Democrat.

Trump’s executive order, signed on Jan. 27, indefinitely halted the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S., blocked other refugees for 120 days, and temporarily barred nearly all citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from traveling to the U.S.

 

Trump summarily dismissed acting Attorney General Sally Yates earlier this week after she defiantly declared that she did not believe the order was lawful, and instructed DOJ attorneys not to defend it in court. Federal prosecutor Dana Boente was appointed to the position and immediately reversed Yates’ order.

Judge Robart’s written order, issued several hours after the court hearing, indicates that the plaintiffs successfully demonstrated that they would “suffer irreparable harm” if the court did not intervene.

“The court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents,” wrote Judge Robart, who was appointed to the federal bench by then-President George W. Bush. “The court concludes the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government.”

The ruling specifically enjoins and restrains federal government from enforcing portions of Mr. Trump’s executive order that halted resettlement of Syrian refugees, blocked for 90 days travel to the United States for citizens from the seven majority-Muslim countries, and prioritized refugee claims made by religious minorities.

It was unclear what would happen to the approximately 60,000 individuals who had visas provisionally revoked by the State Department as a result of the order and whether they would have to obtain new visas to travel to the United States.

A spokesperson from the Customs and Border Protection did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

Trump’s order sparked nationwide protests, with attorneys and demonstrators gathering at airports across the country to attempt to provide legal aid to affected travelers. A rash of lawsuits over the order have followed with varying results.

A federal judge in Boston on Friday declined to renew an order prohibiting the detention or removal of individuals as part of the order on refugees and immigrants. The temporary injunction granted on Jan. 29 will expire as scheduled Sunday.

On the same day, a federal judge in Virginia allowed the state to join a lawsuit challenging the travel ban. The decision expanded the scope of the lawsuit, which was initially focused only on legal permanent residents, commonly called green-card holders. The federal judge indicated a willingness to consider cases involving anyone who had been issued a visa and had it revoked.

The White House has defended the executive order, saying that it will make the country safer by allowing time for the United States to better vet those coming from countries with a history of terrorism.

In written arguments in the Washington case, the Justice Department defended the president’s order and his authority “to suspend or impose restrictions on the entry of aliens into the United States.”

“Every President over the last thirty years has invoked this authority to suspend or impose restrictions on the entry of certain aliens or classes of aliens, in some instances including classifications based on nationality,” DOJ attorneys wrote.

But during Friday’s hearing, The Associated Press reported that Judge Robart asked Justice Department attorneys whether there had been any terrorist attacks by people from the seven counties listed in Trump’s order since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

When DOJ attorney Michelle Bennett said she didn’t know, the judge responded.

“The answer is none,” Judge Robart said. “You’re here arguing we have to protect from these individuals from these countries, and there’s no support for that.”