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GREENBELT, Md. Court orders from judges in
Maryland and Hawaii on Wednesday could decide the immediate fate
of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, which is set to
take effect at 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Thursday.
Refugee resettlement agencies suing the government asked a
federal judge at a hearing in Maryland on Wednesday morning to
halt implementation of the ban, arguing it discriminates on the
basis of religion and violates of the U.S. Constitution.
The president’s executive order, which the administration
says is necessary for national security, temporarily bars the
entry of most refugees as well as travelers from six
Both the refugee agencies and the government’s lawyers faced tough questioning in the Greenbelt courtroom from U.S.
District judge Theodore Chuang, who drilled down on the question
of who would be harmed by the order, signed by Trump on March 6.
The agencies are asking the judge to enforce a temporary,
nationwide halt to the ban while the case moves forward. Chuang
said he would try to issue a written ruling on Wednesday, before
the order is implemented, but said it might come after.
The executive order replaced an earlier, broader order that
was signed amid much fanfare a week after the Republican
president’s Jan. 20 inauguration and that was soon hit by more
than two dozen lawsuits around the country.
A federal judge in Seattle last month issued a nationwide
halt to the first order in a decision was upheld by a U.S.
In response to the legal challenges, the new order was more
narrowly tailored to exclude legal permanent residents and
existing visa holders. It also provides a series of waivers for
various categories of immigrants with ties to the United States.
But critics have charged that the intent behind both
policies was to discriminate against Muslims.
Chuang asked the refugee organizations, represented by the
American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law
Center, who would be most adversely affected by the new policy.
To move forward with the suit the groups have to prove harm, or “standing.”
“This will have real world impact on our clients,” said
National Immigration Law Center attorney Justin Cox, adding that
U.S. citizens with relatives abroad should have the right to see
their families and some refugees in the resettlement pipeline
are in imminent danger.
The government countered that the pause is only temporary
and is needed to improve vetting processes to protect against
The new order bars citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia,
Sudan and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, but Iraq
is no longer on the list. Refugees are still barred for 120
days, but an indefinite ban on all refugees from Syria was
The Department of Justice lawyers said the president has
broad discretion to implement immigration policy and warned
against the courts curbing those powers.
“If this court went down that road I think we could be in
uncharted waters,” said Jeffrey Wall, an attorney arguing for
the Department of Justice.
There will also be a hearing on Wednesday in a separate case
brought by the state of Hawaii, which has argued that its
universities and tourist economy would be harmed by the travel
Hawaii sued in conjunction with a plaintiff named Ismail
Elshikh, an American citizen from Egypt who is an imam at the
Muslim Association of Hawaii. Elshikh says his family will be
harmed if his mother-in-law, who lives in Syria, is prevented
from visiting because of the restrictions.
Responding to this, the government said Elshikh had not been
harmed because the ban allows for waivers, and his mother-in-law
could apply for one.
The new order removed from the earlier ban a clause that
said it would give special protections for religious minorities,
after Trump had said in an interview that Christians refugees
should be given preferences for entry.
While the text of the order does not mention Islam, the
states and refugee support groups say the motivation behind the
policy is Trump’s promise during his election campaign of “a
total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United
He made that pledge in December, 2015 as he vowed to take
tougher counterterrorism steps days after a mass shooting by
Islamic State sympathizers in San Bernardino, California.
The government said the courts should only look at the
actual document and not at outside comments by Trump or his
aides. In the Maryland hearing, government lawyer
Wall denied the order discriminated against Muslims.
The first order took effect immediately, causing chaos and
protests at airports across the country and around the globe and
miring Trump’s administration in an early controversy.
If the new ban goes ahead, advocacy groups said that lawyers
will once again head to international airports to assist anyone
who might be improperly detained or prevented from entering,
said to Betsy Fisher, the policy director at the International
Refugee Assistance Project.
But because the order included a 10-day lag before taking
effect, far fewer people are likely to be caught out while
“There are going to be attorneys on the ground and ready to
respond,” Fisher said in a telephone interview. “But we’re
anticipating not seeing the same kind of chaos because there was
an announcement in advance.” (Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York)
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