San Francisco - Donald Trump’s latest attempt to temporarily bar new immigrants and refugees from six Muslim-majority nations was put on hold by a judge, pushing the young administration toward a second defeat on one of the president’s core campaign pledges.
The ruling means the 90-day ban on new visa approvals won’t be enforced beginning Thursday, as intended by the White House. The decision by the judge in Honolulu to block the policy nationwide will almost certainly be appealed by the Trump administration and could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judge is one of three across the US who spent Wednesday weighing whether to impose a temporary halt on the president’s second travel ban, which was tailored by administration lawyers to stand up to the legal challenges that imperilled its predecessor. Revisions to the order weren’t enough to convince him that the ban was free of religious discrimination.
US District Judge Derrick Watson said in his ruling that a reasonable person would conclude that the “stated secular purpose” of the order is “secondary to a religious objective” of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims.
Democratic state attorneys general and immigrant-rights groups are leading the charge to block Trump’s renewed push to make good on his campaign promise to curb immigration in the name of protecting Americans from potential terrorist attacks. Supporters of the order contend critics fail to understand the expanse of powers that Congress affords the president in dealing with matters of immigration and national security. The new order temporarily blocks visa approvals for immigrants and refugees from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
Wednesday’s ruling was the first of four possible Wednesday in lawsuits filed by states and immigration-rights groups. They all make the same fundamental argument: Trump as a presidential candidate and his surrogates during the past 18 months were explicit in saying they wanted to bar Muslim immigrants and require those already in the US to register with the authorities.
From July 2015 to December 2016, Trump made almost a dozen references to a Muslim ban or registry as he emerged as the Republican party’s nominee and ultimately president, according to Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin’s complaint.
The lawsuits claim violations of the First Amendment, Fifth Amendment and the US Immigration and Nationality Act, saying the president’s order attacks individuals’ rights to religious freedom without persecution or discrimination, and to equal protection.
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The Justice Department has countered by citing a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that “aliens outside the United States” without visas have no constitutional rights to admission into the country. Administration lawyers have also noted that the new order eliminated all preferences for religious minorities. In another change, it also exempts travellers who already have visas and permanent residents with green cards.
The first travel order, issued on January 27, fell victim to a ruling in Seattle after the states of Washington and Minnesota alleged the ban discriminated on the basis of religion and economically harmed the states. A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, who also ruled against that order, said the president’s past remarks that were critical of Muslims could be used in court.
The temporary restraining order approved and the probable appeal has set the case on track for a final ruling by the US Supreme Court.
Without references to religion in the latest ban, the second round of litigation clung to Trump’s stump speeches as evidence of his discriminatory intent.