With President Trump’s new entry ban set to kick in at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, lawyers and volunteers are mounting a last-minute campaign to halt the executive order in federal courts, mobilize protests and aid any travelers who might be stranded this time around.
On Wednesday, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland will hear arguments on whether to halt Trump’s revised executive order, which suspends the U.S. refugee program, temporarily bars the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and slashes refugee admissions to the United States this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000.
Late Tuesday, the federal judge in Seattle who stopped Trump’s first entry ban was to review legal briefs in that case.
“Time is of the essence,” said Peter Lavallee, spokesman for the Washington state attorney general’s office, which filed the lawsuit in Seattle with the support of several other states. “We’ll just wait to see what happens.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and others have called Trump’s orders discriminatory, while federal officials say the actions seek to protect the United States from terrorism.
U.S. District Judge James L. Robart had ordered Trump administration lawyers to submit a brief by 4:30 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday in the Seattle lawsuit. He could rule that his injunction on the ban remains in effect, despite changes in the revised order.
Either way, lawyers said the hearing in Greenbelt, Md., will be critical to the part of the executive order that deals with refugee programs, because Robart’s ruling did not apply to that section.
Refugee rights organizations in the Maryland case are seeking to halt the president’s entire executive order and warn the United States is already nearing Trump’s new refugee limit.
As of last week, more than 37,000 refugees had been admitted to the United States, according to the State Department. Lawyers say Trump’s order leaves 60,000 other refugees — and the organizations that help them — in the lurch this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
“That makes their ability to carry out their mission nearly impossible,” said Melissa Keaney, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center, which is arguing the Maryland case with the ACLU and others. “They have to basically scramble to try to find safe housing for individuals who are in very dangerous and precarious situations.”
In February, Robart suspended Trump’s Jan. 27 entry ban, a broad executive order that suspended the refugee program, halted travel for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including those who already had been issued visas, and triggered chaos and protests at airports worldwide.
When Robart froze Trump’s original executive order, the president criticized him on Twitter, declaring him a “so-called judge” and deeming his ruling “ridiculous.” But a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously upheld the judge’s decision and kept Trump’s entry ban on hold.
Instead of appealing, Trump issued a revised order on March 6. The Justice Department has said the new measure supersedes the restraining order imposed on the initial ban, and will be enforced starting Thursday.
Trump’s new order reduces the list of affected countries from seven to six — removing Iraq, while keeping Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Syria. The order blocks the issuance of new visas for 90 days — exempting those with green cards or visas in hand — and spells out a robust list of people who could apply for exemptions. The order maintains a 120-day freeze on the refugee program and slashes the number to be admitted this year.
On Monday, the state of Washington asked the court to stop the administration from carrying out the latest executive order.
“Injunctions are not suggestions,” lawyers for the state of Washington wrote. “When a court enjoins a defendant from enforcing policies, the defendant cannot evade the injunction by announcing that it will continue only some of the illegal policies.”
The new order undoubtedly reduces the number of people with standing to sue. But civil liberties advocates and others say it is still legally problematic. Washington and other states have said the order imposes economic harm on them, and that, like the first ban, it is unconstitutional because it is intended to discriminate against Muslims.
“The problem is that this administration from the beginning has said that its intent was to discriminate against Muslims and shut out Muslims,” said Cecilia Wang, the ACLU’s deputy legal director.
Federal officials have disputed that characterization and said the order is necessary for national security. The administration also argues that there is no need to freeze the order while people challenge it in court because it does “no imminent harm.”
“No visa is revoked. No lawful permanent resident traveling abroad is barred from returning,” the Justice Department said in a brief filed Monday in the Maryland lawsuit. “Nobody lawfully in the United States loses any prior ability to leave the country to travel and later return. . . . Plaintiffs, in short, identify no cataclysm that will befall them on March 16 or any time soon thereafter.”
Sirine Shebaya, a civil rights lawyer and member of the Dulles Justice Coalition, a group of mostly lawyers who mobilized after Trump’s initial ban in January, said the organization is preparing for another wave of chaos and confusion at airports around the world.
The group has maintained a skeleton staff at Dulles International Airport since the first order, but Shebaya said it will return in larger numbers Thursday. Other groups are planning protests at the airport on Saturday.
“We’re planning to ramp up our presence,” she said.
Refugee rights organizations say Trump’s executive orders are putting families fleeing war and other dangers at risk.
“Essentially the door is slamming shut,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service , the second-largest refugee-resettlement agency in the United States. “Who knows what cues other countries will take if we just shut the door?”
Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report.