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US judge blocks latest version of Trump travel ban

The newest rules also restrict travel by certain Venezuelan government officials and their families

Image Credit: AFP
People march as they participate in the ‘#NoMuslimBanEver’ rally in downtown Los Angeles, California on Sunday. The march organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations was in response to President Donald Trump’s most recent travel ban.
Gulf News

Washington: A Hawaii federal judge issued an order Tuesday blocking major parts of President Trump’s newest travel ban, suggesting it violated immigration law.

The decision from US District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu stopped the administration’s travel restrictions nationwide hours before they were scheduled to take full effect Wednesday.

The newest travel rules, which Trump signed September 24, indefinitely ban entry to the US by most nationals of Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea. They also restrict travel by certain Venezuelan government officials and their families.

Watson’s order, issued in response to a lawsuit filed jointly by the state of Hawaii, a Honolulu-based mosque, its imam and two state residents who have relatives in the affected countries, prevents the government from enforcing the new restrictions on travel from all of the nations except North Korea and Venezuela.

The ban’s opponents did not ask the judge to strike down the travel rules for certain Venezuelans or the North Korea restrictions, which do little to change long-existing US policy toward that country.

Watson wrote that the ban goes against the Immigration and Nationality Act and “plainly discriminates based on nationality” in a way that is “antithetical” to American principles. He said the order “suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries” would harm US interests.

The White House vowed to fight to reestablish the ban, issuing a statement Tuesday saying Watson’s order “undercuts the president’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States”.

‘Ruling incorrect’

The Justice Department said it would appeal. “Today’s ruling is incorrect, fails to properly respect the separation of powers, and has the potential to cause serious negative consequences for our national security,” agency spokesman Ian D. Prior said in a statement.

In the meantime, the State Department said it had notified consulates to resume processing visas for Chad, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and Iran pending further legal proceedings.

In their lawsuit, challengers said the ban would hurt Hawaii’s tourism industry as well as its state university system, which has students, professors and visitors from the blocked countries. The schools have 20 students from the eight countries, and five graduate school applications from the countries for the spring semester.

The Muslim Association of Hawaii, a mosque with several locations that caters to the state’s 5,000 Muslims, said the ban would harm its members, some of whom hail from the listed nations and have family members residing in them. Individuals in the lawsuit said the ban would prevent their relatives from immigrating to or visiting the US.

Government lawyers said in court filings that Trump’s travel order falls within his presidential powers and was written after an extensive review of vetting procedures for nations around the world. In the text of the ban he signed last month, Trump said his administration came up with the nations after looking at their “willingness to cooperate with our identity-management and information-sharing policies and each country’s risk factors, such as whether it has a significant terrorist presence within its territory”.

Internal incoherencies

Watson suggested in his ruling that he didn’t buy that argument. The travel ban “does not reveal why existing law is insufficient to address the president’s described concerns,” the judge wrote, adding that many parts of the ban are “unsupported by verifiable evidence.”

Watson also said the ban “contains internal incoherencies that markedly undermine its stated ‘national security’ rationale. Numerous countries fail to meet one or more of the global baseline criteria … yet are not included in the ban. For example, the president finds that Iraq fails the ‘baseline’ security assessment but then omits Iraq from the ban for policy reasons.” Iraqis are instead subject to additional vetting, a provision the judge did not block.

Notably, the judge largely avoided claims that the ban violated the Constitution by mostly targeting Muslim-majority nations. Watson said his court did not need to address the matter since it had already found the ban in violation of immigration law. Unlike prior court decisions blocking the travel ban, Watson’s ruling only sparingly quoted Trump’s statements that opponents have said were directed against Muslims, such as his campaign promise to suspend Muslim immigration.

In March, Watson issued an order blocking a previous version of the ban in a case that was upheld by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The US Supreme Court then allowed the ban to go into partial effect over the summer before scheduling a fall court date.

Coupled with a similar case out of a federal court in Maryland, the Hawaii case was set for October 10 arguments in the Supreme Court. But justices dropped the case because the prior ban — which was temporary — had expired and was replaced by the new one.