Federal judge in Hawaii puts Trump travel ban on hold, President vows fight
Posted: Mar 16 2017 07:30AM EDT
Updated: Mar 16 2017 01:21PM EDT
HONOLULU (AP) - For the second time, a federal court on Wednesday blocked President Donald Trump's efforts to freeze immigration by refugees and citizens of some predominantly Muslim nations, putting the president's revised travel ban on hold just hours before it was to take effect.
This time, the ruling came from a judge in Hawaii who rejected the government's claims that the travel ban is about national security, not discrimination. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson also said Hawaii would suffer financially if the executive order constricted the flow of students and tourists to the state, and that Hawaii was likely to succeed on a claim that the ban violates First Amendment protections against religious discrimination.
Watson criticized what he called the "illogic" of the government's arguments and cited "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus" behind the travel ban. He also noted that while courts should not examine the "veiled psyche" and "secret motives" of government decision-makers, "the remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry."
"For instance, there is nothing `veiled' about this press release: `Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,"' Watson wrote, referring to a statement Trump issued as a candidate.
Trump called the ruling an example of "unprecedented judicial overreach" and said his administration would appeal it to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also called his new travel ban a watered-down version of the first one, which he said he wished he could implement.
"We're going to win. We're going to keep our citizens safe," the president said at a rally in Nashville. "The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear."
The judge issued his 43-page ruling less than two hours after hearing Hawaii's request for a temporary restraining order to stop the ban from being put into practice.
The hearing was one of three held Wednesday in federal courts around the country. U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who blocked the initial travel ban last month, did not immediately rule on a request from an immigrant-rights group to block the revised version. Neither was there a ruling from U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland in a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.
In all, more than half a dozen states are trying to stop the ban. A case brought by Washington state argues that the new order harms residents, universities and businesses, especially tech companies such as Washington state-based Microsoft and Amazon, which rely on foreign workers. California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have joined the claim.
Trump's initial travel ban, issued on a Friday in late January, brought chaos and protests to airports around the country as travelers from seven nations -- Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen -- were barred from entering even if they had prior permission to come to the U.S. The State Department canceled up to 60,000 visas, but later reversed that decision.
Robart ordered the government to stop enforcing the ban, which also suspended the nation's acceptance of refugees from around the world, and a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declined to reinstate the ban.
The administration subsequently rewrote the ban, emphasizing more of a national security rationale, dropping Iraq from the list of banned countries and spelling out some reasons that travelers from the listed nations might be granted waivers allowing them into the U.S. despite the policy. The new ban does not apply to travelers who already have visas.
Critics of the ban said the changes made it more palatable, but they still argued that it violated both the Constitution and federal immigration law, and they tweaked their lawsuits to target the revised order.
Watson is a 2012 appointee of President Barack Obama. He is the only Native Hawaiian currently sitting as a federal judge and the fourth in U.S. history. He received his law degree from Harvard in 1991.
In his order, he found little evidence the travel ban would aid national security, noting a point brought up by the state: that a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security found nationality to be an "unlikely indicator" of terrorism threats.
If the administration seeks an emergency stay of Watson's decision at the 9th Circuit, the matter would be heard by different judges from the three who ruled on the case last month. That's because the panel of judges assigned to such cases rotates every month, said court spokesman David Madden.
The 9th Circuit on Wednesday declined to reconsider the 3-0 decision not to reinstate the original ban. In a dissent, five judges said they considered that decision incorrect and wanted it vacated.
"Whatever we, as individuals, may feel about the president or the executive order, the president's decision was well within the powers of the presidency," Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the five.
In Seattle, Robart grilled lawyers on two seemingly conflicting federal laws on immigration -- one that gives the president the authority to keep any class of aliens out of the country and another that forbids the government from discriminating on the basis of nationality when it comes to issuing immigrant visas.
In Maryland, the judge weighed whether the measure discriminates against Muslims.
Arguing for the Justice Department, Jeffrey Wall said: "It doesn't say anything about religion. It doesn't draw any religious distinctions."
The Maryland lawsuit also argues that it's against federal law for the Trump administration to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year by more than half, from 110,000 to 50,000. Attorneys argued that if that aspect of the ban takes effect, 60,000 people would be stranded in war-torn countries with nowhere else to go.
Watson made it clear that his decision applied nationwide, ruling that the ban could not be enforced at any U.S. borders or ports of entry or in the issuance of visas.
In the Hawaii case, the federal government said there was no need to issue an emergency restraining order because Hawaii officials offered only "generalized allegations" of harm.
Arguing by telephone, Wall challenged Hawaii's claim that the order violates due-process rights of Ismail Elshikh, a U.S. citizen who wants his mother-in-law to visit his family from Syria. He said courts have not extended due-process rights outside of a spousal relationship.
Neal Katyal, a Washington, D.C., attorney representing Hawaii, called the story of Elshiskh, an Egyptian immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, "the story of America."
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed the lawsuit that succeeded in blocking the first ban, cheered the Hawaii judge's ruling.
"It's very exciting," Ferguson said. "At this point it's a team effort -- multiple lawsuits and multiple states."
On March 6, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney released this statement on President Trump’s revised travel ban:
“I am still greatly concerned that this ban appears to be solely motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment and not by any evidence that this policy will strengthen our national security. While we are still reviewing all the implications of the ban, I believe that this new iteration weakens Philadelphia’s public safety and economic health. This ban instills unnecessary fear in our immigrant populations, who, statistically, are less likely to commit violent crime. If immigrants are too afraid to cooperate with police, then it becomes that much harder for our officers to solve the violent crimes Philadelphians face on a daily basis. Furthermore, this ban sends a harmful message to the immigrants who have helped our economy grow, and the visitors we wish to welcome to our City. At least one conference has already cited this ban as a reason to go abroad rather than come to Philadelphia.”
SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Just a week ago, Nadia Hanan Madalo and her family had received news that refugees like them have been waiting to hear: They had seats on a flight bound for the U.S. from Iraq, with an arrival just before the latest Trump administration travel ban was to take effect.
But until they set foot on American soil, they weren't sure.
All Madalo's family knew was that they couldn't go back to their Christian village. Islamic State fighters had invaded several years ago, and only devastation remains. Roads are filled with land mines. The town has been destroyed. And their family home was burned to the ground.
"Thank God we ran from there and come here," she told her brother in Arabic, who translated her words to English after Madalo, her husband and four children arrived to the San Diego airport Wednesday.
Tears streamed down her face as she gave him, her other siblings and mother long embraces.
As Madalo and her family flew to the U.S. on Wednesday, a federal judge in Hawaii put a hold on President Trump's newest ban -- the latest development in a fight between the administration and the courts that has injected more uncertainty into the lives of refugees.
Resettlement agencies say more than 67,000 refugees were in the stages of being approved and allowed into the U.S when Trump's January order halted travel for 90 days from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the refugee program for 120 days.
After a federal court in California blocked the order in February, declaring it unconstitutional, thousands rushed to get in before the anticipated new order was issued. The Trump administration said the revised ban addresses the legal problems of the last one, and dropped Iraq from the list of countries.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson blocked the order, citing "questionable evidence supporting the government's national security motivation." Trump, who has said the order is necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S., criticized the ruling, saying: "The danger is clear. The law is clear."
Madalo and her family were booked on a refugee flight leaving Wednesday after originally offered Thursday, the day the travel ban was to go into effect. The renewed order allowed refugees with booked tickets by the end of Thursday to still come into the country until the end of the month.
They felt lucky, after waiting for four years to get into the United States. Madalo's sister in Lebanon is among those still waiting for approval.
Before leaving, Madalo and her husband returned one last time to their village. The family had not been back in three years since IS fighters moved in. Government forces have since pushed the fighters out, but their home was in ruins -- grim confirmation that they needed to leave.
Still, it was a difficult moment. Madalo's husband, Salim Tobiya Kato, cried for hours as he said goodbye to his siblings, not knowing when he would see them again.
"It's hard to leave my birthplace, where all my memories are, and where my parents are buried," he said.
At the same time, he looked forward to reuniting with his 21-year-old son who got into the U.S. a year earlier. Madalo was happy her family could stop fleeing. Their children had been struggling since they had left their village in 2014 and fled to Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region where they attended an overcrowded school for the displaced.
Their final destination was the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, home to the nation's second largest population of Chaldeans, where her brother hosted a celebration with their mother, siblings and cousins.
But for every family celebrating a joyous reunion, thousands of other people remain in limbo. People such as Midya Alothman.
The Syrian refugee and her two siblings in Buffalo, New York, expected their parents and remaining siblings to arrive in February. They bought the ingredients for a feast, got their father's favorite strong coffee and made plans to pick up tulips in their mother's favorite colors -- purple and pink.
Then their Feb. 16 flight was cancelled without explanation. They were unable to rebook their flight before the start of the renewed ban.
"Maybe they can stand for two months, three months, and that's fine. OK. What's going to happen after that? I'm afraid about this. I'm scared about this," said Alothman, a Kurdish Muslim from Syria who works 24 hours a week for minimum wage at a Catholic clinic as a translator and receptionist.
The 16-page executive order calls for a 55 percent reduction in refugee visas overall. Instead of the planned 110,000 slated for this year, there would be just 50,000. By this week, nearly 38,000 will have already been admitted.
Madalo and her siblings understand the pain of waiting.
Their parents spent three years going through the vetting process before they got approved for a flight. Then it was cancelled. There were more delays as her father's health worsened. In 2015, as her parents traveled to the U.S., her father died.
Her brother, Gassan Kakooz, who came to the U.S. in 2008 as a refugee, buried his father in San Diego. In his apartment, he keeps a photo of him displayed high up, as if he is watching over the room.
Over the years, Kakooz has welcomed his siblings one by one, helping them to find homes and get jobs. He and his wife and children have become U.S. citizens, and have no plans to go back to Iraq. Now his youngest sister and her family were here too.
"I am so happy," he said. "I cannot tell you how happy I am."