Refugee advocates outline arguments for legal action on presidential ban

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA

By Dennis Sadowski

(CNS) — The breadth of President Donald Trump’s authority to limit refugees
entering the United States will be fought in federal court and some of the
legal challenges ultimately may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

lawsuits have been filed challenging Trump’s Jan. 27 executive memorandum that suspended the entire U.S.
refugee resettlement program for 120 days and banned entry of all citizens from
seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and
Somalia — for 90 days.

Another clause in the memorandum
established religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to
religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee

In five
of the earliest lawsuits, federal judges blocked the government from denying entry
to anyone from the affected countries with a valid visa.

One decision came from U.S.
District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. in Los Angeles, whose Feb. 1 order “enjoined
and restrained” the government from enforcing the president’s memorandum
against 28 plaintiffs from Yemen who have been held in transit in Djibouti
since the president signed the document. Similar orders have come from federal
judges in Boston; Seattle; Brooklyn, New York; and Alexandria, Virginia.

court orders are short-term in nature and were issued in anticipation of the
cases being argued by both sides during the next several weeks before any
potential restraining orders are issued.

statement issued Jan. 29 from the Department of Homeland Security said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
“began taking steps to comply with the orders.”

lawsuits are expected and could encompass several parts of the law that
govern presidential authority over who to admit and not admit to the U.S.

Charles Wheeler, director of
the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s Training and Support section in
Oakland, California, identified one area of the law that allows the
president to suspend the entry of “any class of aliens” if it
determined that their entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the
United States.” However, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 amended
the law to prohibit any foreign-born national from being given preference because
of their “race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of

refugee issue is going to turn on whether (Trump’s action) specifically
exempting Christians says that the intention of it is in fact to favor one
religion over another,” Wheeler told Catholic News Service. “I think
that makes (the action) much more vulnerable to equal protection

Charles Roth, director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center in
Chicago, suggested that a half dozen or more areas of the law could be cited in any legal challenges to the executive action.

of the strong arguments is that the president’s statutory authority doesn’t
allow him to make these sweeping rules about everyone from a particular
country,” said Roth, who is Catholic.

executive memorandum is vague enough that questions remain over the status of
visa applications for refugees already in the U.S. versus those still outside
of the country, Roth added.

feels to me that the president sees being tough on refugees is the symbolism
he’s looking to have. This order doesn’t seem to be designed to be particularly
dependable as a legal matter or particularly nuanced to achieve justice and fairness,”
Roth said.

the memorandum’s vagaries, Gemma Solimene,
clinical associate professor of law at Fordham University’s School of Law,
expects the government to defend it on national security grounds
and deny that Muslims are being singled out.

that the law gives Trump broad discretionary powers with respect to entry into
the U.S., she said she found the document “is clearly not well thought
out, there isn’t a lot of guidance (for carrying it out).”

they were clearly serious on national security, there would be other things (in
it) to actually have effect on these issues,” Solimene said.

suggested that the memorandum could have justified its stance by including
information about any attacks by foreign nationals from particular countries.

reason they made this a national security problem or under the guise of
national security is because it is less challengeable. The government clearly
has a lot more discretion when they say this is an issue of national security,”
Solimene said.

at the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
and Catholic Charities USA told CNS they do not plan to enter the legal fray,

William Canny, MRS executive director,
said it is unlikely that Trump would rescind his memorandum so the agency will focus
on making sure actions under the new policy address humanitarian concerns, such
as family reunification whereby a child or parent is awaiting entry into the

majority (of cases MRS has handled) in recent years have been reunifying families.
So now you have families separated (because of the memorandum) and anyone who
is separated from family by distance and time … knows the pain,” Canny

Most of
the people MRS has been resettling are women and children, “who for
example witness the murder of their father and who are languishing in a camp
and who have family to join here in the U.S. to help them, who can’t return to
their country, who can’t find work or schooling in the country they’re in.”

who we take,” he said.

urged federal officials to keep such needs in mind and complete the vetting of
refugees as quickly as possible.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham,
president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said her agency would avoid
joining any lawsuits challenging presidential action, but would focus on making
“people aware of what’s happening” with refugees that “is not in
line with the Gospel.”

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Sadowski on Twitter: @DennisSadowski.

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