Policy

Federal Judges Block Trump’s Modified Travel Ban

President says ruling ‘makes us look weak’

Demonstrators hold signs at Dulles International Airport on Jan. 29 to protest President Donald Trump’s first executive order on immigration. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland issued nationwide temporary restraining orders halting President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, with one coming just hours before the executive action was set to go into effect.

A decision Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii was the second such ruling against Trump’s efforts to block temporarily certain immigrants, refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority nations from entering the country. A judge in Washington state blocked the original travel ban, which was broader in scope, shortly after it was signed Jan. 27.

Watson sided with the state of Hawaii, which argued Trump’s revised executive order was simply a discriminatory ban on Muslims. The Trump administration says the revised ban would increase national security. 

“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” Watson wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”

A second federal judge in Maryland issued a similar ruling Thursday morning in a case brought by the International Refugee Assistance Program and several Muslims with relatives who are from blocked countries and are seeking permission to enter the United States. U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang detailed statements from Trump about a “Muslim ban” and his administration about the purpose of the ban.

“In this highly unique case, the record provides strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban,” Chuang wrote.

During a rally in Nashville on Wednesday, Trump said the Hawaii ruling “makes us look weak.” He characterized the ruling as “judicial overreach” and “sad.”

In a statement, the Justice Department said it “strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope. The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts.”

First Amendment challenge

Trump's revised travel ban would stop the issuance of new U.S. visas to travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for three months, suspend refugee inflows for four months, and cut annual refugee admissions by half. 

Hawaii filed a lawsuit that alleged the modified order — like the one it sought to replace — violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it targets Muslims, hurts the ability of the state’s businesses and universities to recruit talent from around the world and hurts the state’s tourism.

The state pointed to the case of Ismail Elshikh, the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, whose mother-in-law’s application for an immigrant visa was still being processed. Under the new executive order, lawyers for Hawaii said, Elshikh feared that his mother-in-law would ultimately be banned from entering the United States.

While Justice Department lawyers argued that the president was within his authority to impose the ban, and that those challenging it had raised only speculative harms, the ruling by Watson cited then-candidate Trump’s interview with CNN in March 2016 in which he said, “Islam hates us.”

The federal judge said there’s “unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related predecessor.”

Federal courts in Hawaii, Washington state and Maryland heard challenges to the revised ban on Wednesday, as the administration prepared to avoid the chaos and confusion surrounding implementation of the original executive order. Watson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, issued his ruling about two hours after the hearing in Hawaii.  

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was no surprise that the revised ban was blocked.

“The Trump Administration’s repackaging did nothing to change the immoral, unconstitutional and dangerous goals of their Muslim and refugee ban.  It was the same ban, driven by the same dangerous discrimination, and today, it met the same defeat in court," Pelosi said in a statement. 

— Dean DeChiaro, John T. Bennett and Todd Ruger contributed to this report.

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