Hawaii judge blocks travel ban for the third time

United States District Judge Derrick Watson blocked the third travel ban issued by President Trump hours before it took full effect.

George Lee /The Star-Advertiser/AP/File
United States District Judge Derrick Watson in Honolulu blocked the Trump administration from enforcing its latest travel ban on Oct. 17, just hours before it was set to take effect.

Just hours before President Trump's latest travel ban was to take full effect, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the revised order, saying the policy has the same problems as a previous version.

The revised order "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor," United States District Judge Derrick Watson wrote in his ruling, which prevented the Trump administration from enforcing the travel ban set to go into effect early Wednesday.

It was the third set of travel restrictions issued by the president to be thwarted, in whole or in part, by the courts.

A federal judge in Maryland quickly followed suit with a similar ruling. US District Judge Theodore Chuang also granted a nationwide preliminary injunction late Tuesday.

Mr. Chuang's ruling said the administration had "not shown that national security cannot be maintained without an unprecedented eight-country travel ban."

Mr. Watson's Tuesday ruling said the new ban, like its predecessor, fails to show that nationality alone makes a person a greater security risk to the US.

"The categorical restrictions on entire populations of men, women, and children, based upon nationality, are a poor fit for the issues regarding the sharing of 'public-safety and terrorism-related information' that the president identifies," Watson wrote.

He said the ban is inconsistent in the way some countries are included or left out. For example, Iraq failed to meet the security benchmark but was omitted from the ban. Somalia met the information-sharing benchmark but was included.

The ban, which was announced in September, applied to travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, along with some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

The Trump administration said the ban was based on an assessment of each country's security situation and willingness to share information with the US.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the ruling "dangerously flawed" and said it "undercuts the president's efforts to keep the American people safe." The Justice Department said it will quickly appeal.

The judge's ruling applies only to the six Muslim-majority countries on the list. It does not affect the restrictions against North Korea or Venezuela, because Hawaii did not ask for that.

The state of Hawaii challenged the ban on a set of mostly Muslim countries, arguing that the restrictions would separate families and undermine the recruiting of diverse college students.

"This is the third time Hawaii has gone to court to stop Mr. Trump from issuing a travel ban that discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion," Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said in a statement. "Today is another victory for the rule of law."

Watson, appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, said the new restrictions ignore a federal appeals court ruling against Trump's previous ban.

The latest version "plainly discriminates based on nationality in the manner that the 9th Circuit has found antithetical to ... the founding principles of this nation," Watson wrote.

Hawaii also argued the updated ban was a continuation of Trump's campaign call for a ban on Muslims, despite the addition of two countries without a Muslim majority.

Watson noted that Hawaii had argued Trump did not back down from that call, listing in the ruling a series of June tweets "in which [Trump] complained about how the Justice Department had submitted a 'watered down, politically correct version' to the Supreme Court."

Other courts that weighed the travel ban have cited Trump's comments about banning Muslims, including the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia and a federal judge in Maryland. Watson also referred to a Trump campaign statement in his previous ruling.

"Judge Watson's ruling makes clear that we are a nation of laws, no matter what this administration may try to do," Sen. Brian Schatz (D) of Hawaii said in a statement. "There is a place here for peaceful immigrants from every corner of the world: Spain, Syria, Sudan, or Singapore. There is no place here for discrimination or xenophobia."

Watson found fault with what sorts of visitors are barred. For instance, all tourists and business travelers from Libya are excluded from the US, but student visitors were allowed.

The judge said he would set an expedited hearing to determine whether the temporary restraining order blocking the ban should be extended. It comes as other courts weigh challenges to the ban.

In Maryland, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are seeking to block the visa and entry restrictions. Washington state, Massachusetts, California, Oregon, New York, and Maryland are challenging the order in front of the same federal judge in Seattle who struck down Trump's initial ban in January.

That ban – aimed mostly at Muslim-majority countries – led to chaos and confusion at airports nationwide and triggered several lawsuits, including one from Hawaii.

When Trump revised the ban, Hawaii challenged that version, too, and Watson agreed it discriminated on the basis of nationality and religion. A subsequent US Supreme Court ruling allowed the administration to partially reinstate restrictions against Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen and against all refugees.

Hawaii then successfully challenged the government's definition of which relatives of people already living in the US would be allowed into the country, and Watson ordered the list expanded.

This story was reported by the Associated Press. 

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