Government lawyers challenge partial lift on refugee ban

Department of Justice lawyers have asked Judge James Robart to change his recent injunction that partially lifted a ban on refugees from 11 mostly Muslim countries.

Elaine Thompson/AP/File
Mariko Hirose, a litigation director at the Urban Justice Center, addresses reporters in front of a federal courthouse in Seattle. The government has asked a federal judge to change his order that partially lifted a Trump administration refugee ban.

Lawyers with the Department of Justice have asked a federal judge to change his order that partially lifted a Trump administration refugee ban.

Just before Christmas, US District Judge James Robart in Seattle imposed a nationwide injunction that blocks restrictions on reuniting refugee families and partially lifted a ban on refugees from 11 mostly Muslim countries. Mr. Robart limited that part of the injunction to refugees who have a bona fide relationship with people or entities in the United States. He also said that refugees who have formal agreements with refugee resettlement agencies were covered under his order.

The government does not want to include resettlement agencies.

Government lawyers filed a motion Wednesday saying that although the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has interpreted the "bona fide relationship" to include connections to resettlement agencies, the US Supreme Court has stayed that ruling. That means the highest court indicates it disagrees with the appeals court on that point, the lawyers say.

Attorneys for refugee support organization HIAS and Jewish Family Service say the government's claims are wrong.

"The Supreme Court was clear in its earlier order protecting refugees with bona fide relationships to the US from the last temporary refugee ban," Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of New York-based HIAS, said Thursday. "Yet in its latest ban, the Trump administration not only ignored this admonition, but went even further to explicitly prevent refugees in the US from reuniting with their spouse or minor children."

The refugee organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union filed two lawsuits, consolidated into one, challenging the Trump administration's refugee ban.

The ACLU represents a Somali man who has spent years trying to bring his wife and children to his home in Washington state.

Jewish Family Service challenged the administration's prohibition of refugees from certain countries until the vetting process could be reviewed.

Department of Justice lawyers argued in a hearing last week that the ban was a temporary and reasonable way for agencies to deal with gaps in the screening process.

But ACLU and Jewish Family Service lawyers said the government violated federal law when it implemented the ban. Robart agreed, and also said the refugee ban violated the Immigration and Nationality Act passed by Congress.

Mariko Hirose, a lawyer on the Jewish Family Service case and litigation director for International Refugee Assistance Project, said the Trump administration has attacked refugee resettlement since the first travel ban, leaving vulnerable refugees in limbo.

The plaintiffs include two Iraqi men who served as interpreters for the US Army and are said to be in "extreme danger" because of their work. Other plaintiffs include an Iraqi woman was kidnapped, raped and threatened with death for her work with an American company and a transgender woman in Egypt faces harassment and persecution. They all were in the process of coming to the US when the executive order went into effect.

In the motion filed Wednesday, government lawyers cited the Supreme Court's three stay orders on previous Trump travel bans as evidence the high court disagrees with letting the bona fide relationship include refugee resettlement agencies or humanitarian organizations.

"For individuals, a close familial relationship is required," the lawyers wrote. "'As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course,' such as a relationship between a foreign student and an American university or between a foreign worker and an American employer.

"Unlike these types of relationships, refugees do not have a freestanding connection to resettlement agencies, apart from the refugee admissions process itself, by virtue of the agency's assurance agreement with the federal government."

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mark Hetfield's name.

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