Federal judges in several states began hearing arguments from lawyers on Wednesday regarding President Donald Trump’s revised executive order restricting travel from six majority-Muslim countries.
Lawyers are facing off on the order in Maryland, Washington state, and Hawaii, where separate lawsuits have been filed.
The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order on the ban, which was signed last Monday, weeks after the original order was challenged in courtrooms across the country and ultimately blocked from reinstatement by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The revised order no longer bars current visa holders and green card holders from entering the US, and removes Iraq from the list of affected countries, which now include just Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen. It also includes Syrian refugees as part of its 120-day refugee admissions suspension, whereas previously Syrian refugees were barred indefinitely.
Unlike the original order, this ban also gave advanced notice of its implementation, which will occur Thursday at 12:01 a.m. unless one of the judges grants a restraining order.
In Maryland, refugee organisations including the International Refugee Assistance Project called on US District Judge Theodore Chuang to halt Trump’s order. They argued in legal filings that evidence of security threats, which the Trump administration cited as justification for the order, were “implausibly thin,” and that the revised order maintained the original ban’s “discriminatory intent,” according to the Washington Post.
“The Executive Order causes severe and irreparable injury to the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the organizational plaintiff’s clients, separating family members from one another, stranding people in unsafe locations overseas, and stigmatizing and demeaning one religious group,” one legal filing said.
Chuang said Wednesday he will issue a ruling, but could not guarantee it would come before Trump’s ban takes effect.
Hawaii had been the first state to file a lawsuit last Wednesday, followed by Washington — which had been the first state to challenge Trump’s original ban in January. Washington’s renewed lawsuit has been joined by Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, California, and Massachusetts.
A legal brief filed by California argues that the state’s residents — including its more than 10 million immigrants and 150,000 international students — will be harmed by the new ban, according to the Los Angeles Times. The brief also alleged the state will suffer financial harm, as visitors from the Middle East spent $US681 million in the state in 2015, generating $US40.8 million in sales tax revenue.
“The Trump Administration may have changed the text of the now-discredited Muslim travel ban, but they didn’t change its unconstitutional intent and effect,” California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra told media on Monday.
“It’s still an attack on people — women and children, professors and business colleagues, seniors and civic leaders — based on their religion and national origin.”
Trump administration officials have defended both bans as necessary in preventing the entry of travellers from countries affected by terrorism, until more rigorous vetting procedures can be implemented.
‘Antithetical to Hawaii’s State identity and spirit’
State attorneys for Hawaii argued in their amended complaint that the order will cause “grave injury” to Muslims in Hawaii, and will affect its foreign students and workers and upset the state’s tourism-based economy.
“President Trump’s new Executive Order is antithetical to Hawaii’s State identity and spirit,” the complaint argues.
“It is damaging Hawaii’s institutions, harming its economy, and eroding Hawaii’s sovereign interests in maintaining the separation between church and state as well as in welcoming persons from all nations around the world into the fabric of its society.”
The state’s attorneys argued that the revised order violates the First Amendment and Fifth Amendment by having the effect and intent of “disfavoring Islam,” inflicting harm on Hawaii’s residents, discriminating against individuals based on their religion and nationality, and violating individuals of due process rights.
The complaint lists its lead plaintiff as Ismail Elshikh, the Imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, whose mother-in-law lives in Syria and could be prevented by the ban from obtaining a visa to visit the state.
The state’s lawyers argued that Elshikh and his family will be subjected to “discrimination and second-class treatment.”
The complaint also noted that the state hosts 12,000 foreign students and international faculty members, many of whom are from the seven countries identified in Trump’s original order, including at least 27 graduate students currently studying at the University of Hawaii.
Foreign students paid more than $US400 million into the Hawaiian economy through their tuition, fees, and living expenses, and supported 7,590 jobs and generated more than $US43 million in state taxes, the complaint said.
The lawyers also argued that tourism is Hawaii’s “lead economic driver,” bringing in 8.7 million visitors in 2015 alone, who accounted for $US15 billion in spending.
‘Nationality- and religion-based discrimination’
Hawaii’s complaint, like those against Trump’s first order, uses in its arguments previous statements Trump has made, such as those calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and accusing the American immigration system of “importing radical Islamic terrorism to the West.”
“President Trump repeatedly campaigned on the promise that he would ban Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the United States, particularly from Syria, and maintained the same rhetoric after he was elected,” the complaint said.
The lawyers also included in the complaint several comments made by Trump allies that appear to call into question the intent of Trump’s order. The complaint cites comments made by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who told Fox News that Trump had consulted him on how to legally implement a “Muslim ban.”
Also cited is Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, who told Fox News last month that Trump’s revised order would have the same effect as the original one.
The lawsuit also sought to undercut Trump’s claims that the order was urgently needed to prevent terrorist attacks. The suit referred to a recent report that found that no fatal terrorist attack in the US since 1975 was perpetrated by a national of one of the six countries.
It also referred to a draft Homeland Security report published by the Associated Press that found that citizenship was an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats against the US, and that half of the 82 people inspired by a foreign terrorist group to attempt or carry out a terrorist attack in the US were citizens who had been born in the country.
“Defendants have exceeded their statutory authority, engaged in nationality- and religion-based discrimination, and failed to vindicate statutory rights guaranteed by the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the lawyers argued.
“The Executive Order purports to protect the country from terrorism, but sweeps in millions of people who have absolutely no connection to terrorism.”
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