A federal judge temporarily suspended a new Trump administration policy on Wednesday that allowed state and local authorities to opt out of receiving refugees, and concluded that the policy would probably be illegal.
The preliminary injunction issued by Judge Peter J. Messitte of the United States District Court in Maryland blocks a September executive order that empowers governors and county and city officials to effectively reject refugees fleeing the United States. persecution throughout the world.
President Trump’s order forced the issue of resettlement of refugees to the political forefront in communities from North Dakota to Massachusetts, where a heated debate ignited on whether to continue receiving vulnerable people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, which often They have suffered violence for years. displacement.
Last week, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas became the first governor to veto the resettlement of refugees in his state. Several mayors of Texas, including those of Houston, Dallas and Austin, expressed support for the reception of refugees.
In his 31-page opinion, the judge said the executive order undermines the role of resettlement agencies by leaving the decision to receive refugees solely in the hands of states and localities.
“If they do not give their consent, apparently for any reason or no reason, there will be no resettlement throughout the state or in that local community,” the judge said in his ruling. “Resettlement agencies will be totally marginalized. In other words, as screens in electronic sports are inevitably recorded: “Game over.”
The judge also said the order seems to go against the stated purpose of the Refugee Law “to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of refugees who are admitted.”
“It is difficult to see how the order, if implemented, would not subvert the delicate federal-state structure contemplated by the Refugee Law,” said the judge.
Since the resettlement program began 40 years ago, refugees have been sent more frequently to locations where they have families, where there is an existing community in their countries of origin or where they are likely to find affordable work and housing.
Before they are allowed to enter the United States, refugees undergo a thorough investigation, which includes security checks, which may take years to complete. Once in the country, they become eligible for permanent legal residence and can then apply for citizenship.
The court order followed a legal challenge to the executive order in November by three nonprofit organizations that are among the religious agencies hired by the government to resettle the refugees. They argued that the presidential order was a violation of the Refugee Law and unconstitutional because the federal government, not states and localities, has authority over immigration policy.
Judge Messitte concluded that the plaintiffs, the Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service, the World Church Service and the Jewish HIAS refugee resettlement group would probably succeed in their claim. As a result of their ruling, states and localities are temporarily exempt from the requirement to give explicit consent to continue receiving refugees.
“We thank Judge Messitte for defending the rule of law and ensuring that the United States remains a welcome place for the most vulnerable in the world,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
But the Trump administration criticized the ruling, saying that many communities do not have the resources to support a large number of refugees and deserve to have a voice in determining whether more of them should be accommodated.
“Another lawless district court has affirmed its own preferred immigration policy in place of the laws of the United States and, in doing so, robbed millions of US citizens of their voice and their opinion on a vital issue that directly affects their communities. ” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
He called the court order “an absurd decision, another example of district court orders across the country going crazy.”
So far, 42 governors, 19 Republicans and 23 Democrats, and about 100 locations had agreed to receive refugees. Seven states had not yet agreed: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina and Wyoming.
The executive order had created the potential for conflict between states and local officials on whether to accept or reject refugees.
In Texas, Lina Hidalgo, the chief executive of Harris County, the largest county in the state and home of Houston, opposed Governor Abbott’s veto and cheered the judge’s ruling.
“Our region, one of the main destinations for refugees in the world, is proof that welcoming refugees contributes to economic success and strong and safe communities,” he said. “Opening our doors to the needy should transcend partisan politics.”
On Monday, the government asked the Supreme Court to lift a court order on another immigration policy, the so-called public charge rule, which would disqualify certain applicants from permanent residence if they had used public benefits.
The judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit confirmed last week a court order that blocks the implementation of the policy issued by a federal judge in New York. The courts of three states had issued precautionary measures against the rule.
Since taking office, Trump has drastically reduced the number of refugees the United States is willing to admit, to 18,000 for the current fiscal year, the smallest number since the start of the refugee program in 1980.
In the fiscal year ending September 30, the administration set a limit of 30,000 refugees, below the 45,000 in the previous year. President Barack Obama had set the limit at 110,000 during his last year in office.
In the current case before the Maryland court, the Justice Department attorneys argued that because the president has the authority to determine how many refugees are admitted each year, he also has the power to decree that state and local governments can determine whether refugees must be sent to their communities.
The government also said state and local governments should have the final say on whether to accept refugees because they are in the best position to judge whether they have the resources to spend on accommodating newcomers.
But at a hearing last week, Judge Messitte, appointed by President Bill Clinton, responded that the executive order had effectively granted states veto power over refugee resettlement when they “do not have the authority to take this type of decisions. ”
The judge also questioned whether the executive order had political motivations.
In his ruling on Wednesday, Judge Messitte wrote that the president’s order “goes against a clear intention of Congress, as expressed in the legislative history of the statute.”
Resettlement agencies said the executive order if implemented would deprive thousands of refugees of their best chance of successfully building a new life in the United States and would burden thousands of families hoping to meet with parents, children and other family members they are looking for. safe haven
The State Department, which oversees the refugee program, set a deadline for January 21 for state and local authorities to decide if they will accept refugees. As of June, according to plans to implement the order, refugees would be sent only to places where officials had given their prior written consent.
Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, the Jewish refugee resettlement agency, said most governors and municipalities had already expressed their desire to continue welcoming refugees. “For the few who have not done so,” he said, “we tell them that it is not only cruel and anti-American to ban refugees from their states and cities, but that it is illegal.”