A United States federal judge has blocked an executive order from President Donald Trump that gave state and local governments effective veto power over having refugees resettled within their jurisdictions.
US District Judge Peter Messitte issued a preliminary injunction in Maryland on Wednesday at the request of three national refugee resettlement agencies that are suing to challenge the executive order.
Agency leaders argued the order, which required resettlement agencies to get written consent from state and local officials before resettling refugees, effectively gives governors and county leaders the ability to override the resettlement process. The agencies also argue the order illegally conflicts with the 1980 Refugee Act, which enshrines the federal procedure of refugee resettlement.
Messitte said the agencies are likely to succeed in showing that the executive order is unlawful.
“Refugee resettlement activity should go forward as it developed for the almost 40 years before the (executive order) was announced,” he wrote in his 31-page ruling.
Messitte added Trump’s order doesn’t appear to serve the “overall public interest”.
The Trump administration announced the directive in November. The order would have applied to any refugees being resettled beyond June 2020. After being resettled, refugees are free to move anywhere within the US, but at their own expense.
Texas first to reject refugees
Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and HIAS – a Jewish nonprofit – filed the lawsuit in Greenbelt, Maryland, on November 21. They represent three of the nine national organisations that have agreements with the federal government to provide housing and other services for refugees.
Texas, which took in more refugees than any other state during the 2018 fiscal year, became the first state known to reject the resettlement of new refugees.
Governor Greg Abbott said in a letter released January 10 that the state, which borders Mexico, “has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system”.
The head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, told The Associated Press news agency the ruling, for now, puts on hold a policy that was causing “irreparable harm to refugee families and resettlement agency’s already”.
She added that it essentially re-opens the door to refugees being resettled in Texas.
“It’s a significant day in which the rule of law won,” O’Mara Vignarajah said.
While at least 41 states have publicly agreed to accept refugees, a governor’s decision does not preclude local officials from refusing to give their consent.
For instance, the Democratic mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts, had refused to give written consent for refugees to be resettled in the city.
Trump and immigration
Cutting immigration has been a centrepiece of Trump’s presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.
One of his first acts after assuming office in January 2017 was to issue an order cutting in half a plan put in place by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, to resettle 110,000 refugees in fiscal 2017.
Since then, the cap has been slashed each year Trump has been in office.
For 2020, the administration set a ceiling of 18,000 refugee admissions, the lowest since the modern refugee program began in 1980.
Trump’s executive order claims the resettlement agencies were not working closely enough with local officials on resettling refugees. He maintained his administration was acting to respect communities that believe they do not have the jobs or other resources to be able to take in refugees.
During an October campaign rally in Minnesota, Trump said that he had delivered on a pledge to “give local communities a greater say in refugee policy” and increase vetting.
Justice Department lawyer Bradley Humphreys had argued that the Refugee Act gives the president “ample authority” to make such a change.
Humphreys said the executive order is designed to enhance the involvement of state and local officials in the process of resettling refugees. However, he insisted it does not give them a veto over resettlement decisions.
Between 150,000 and 200,000 refugees remain in the pipeline for possible US resettlement while they live abroad, according to Linda Evarts, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.