WASHINGTON – A refugee resettlement group based in Silver Spring, Maryland, has joined the legal fight against President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa.
HIAS – represented by the ACLU, and joined by eight other plaintiffs – filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Maryland’s Southern Division against Trump and members of his administration, including Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Trump’s executive order, signed Jan. 27, suspended travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, blocked new refugee admissions for 120 days, and banned Syrian refugees indefinitely.
The new president’s actions launched nationwide protests and calls for legal action by those who say his order violates the Constitution by discriminating against one religious group.
The lawsuit filed in Maryland alleges the ban was “intended and designed to target and discriminate against Muslims, and it does just that in operation.”
“We cannot remain silent as Muslim refugees are turned away just for being Muslim, just as we could not stand idly by when the U.S. turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Germany during the 1930s and 40s,” HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said in a statement. HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit, is the world’s oldest resettlement organization.
After Washington state sued the Trump administration, a federal judge temporarily blocked the order from being enforced nationwide – a decision Trump tweeted was “ridiculous and will be overturned.”
His administration has argued the executive order is necessary to keep Americans safe from terror.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments Tuesday night on whether to uphold the ruling in the case, State of Washington v. Trump, and is still deliberating.
In a related development, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined 15 attorneys general on Monday in filing an amicus brief in support of the states suing the administration.
“The Executive Order has already generated confusion, disappointment, and fear,” Frosh said. “It is not only a policy that is unwise and dangerous, but it is a policy that is inhumane, inappropriate and un-American.”
HIAS was joined in the Maryland lawsuit by the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project and seven U.S. residents who are either of Iranian or Iraqi descent. Five of the plaintiffs live in Maryland.
The plaintiffs have “suffered and will continue to suffer harm” due to the chaotic implementation and enforcement of Trump’s executive order, the lawsuit states.
At least one of HIAS’ Muslim clients in the U.S. was detained at the airport, handcuffed and separated from his family, the lawsuit states, and others have experienced travel delays.
The individuals named in the suit say family members have been barred from travelling to the United States and visa applications remain in limbo.
The plaintiff listed as John Doe # 2, a U.S. citizen from Iraq, arrived in America in 2009. Three years earlier, Doe’s uncle and cousin were killed in Iraq. After he, too, received threats, Doe fled Iraq for Syria and applied for refugee status, eventually moving to Baltimore County.
In March 2015, Doe filed a petition for family-based immigration visas so his parents – still facing threats and harassment in Iraq – could join him in America.
Their visas were approved after an immigration interview in September 2016, but as of December, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad told Doe his parents’ applications were still being processed, according to the lawsuit.
Expecting to join their son this year, Doe’s parents sold their furniture and prepared for the move.
“When they learned about the Executive Order, they realized that the travel ban would prevent them from joining their son and his family in the United States,” the lawsuit states.
For HIAS, pursuing litigation against the U.S. government is an unprecedented move, but officials said it was necessary to avoid situations like Doe’s.
“If the order remains, families who have already endured years of separation will remain apart,” HIAS managing attorney Liz Sweet said in a statement. “Many HIAS clients could face months of waiting and uncertainty, if not an indefinite ban on entry to the United States, if the executive order remains the law.”