HIAS, Refugee Agencies, Argue Against Trump Executive Order

By Sharon Samber, HIAS.org

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland heard arguments Wednesday morning in HIAS v. Trump, the lawsuit brought by HIAS and two other refugee resettlement agencies, which challenges the president’s executive order giving state and local officials the power to block refugees from being resettled in their jurisdictions. 

The order, issued on September 26, 2019, requires resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from all localities and states in which they plan to resettle refugees. In November, HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service filed suit saying the order was not legal. The agencies charge that the order violates federal law and is yet another attempt by the Trump administration to restrict refugee resettlement in the United States.

Over 100 people, including activists and spectators, packed into the courtroom to follow the proceedings as the three agencies asked U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte for a preliminary injunction to block the order. Judge Messitte is expected to rule on the request as soon as next week.

At today’s two-and-a-half-hour hearing, the judge repeatedly challenged the Justice Department’s attorney about the change in federal law governing the resettlement of refugees.

“On what authority is the president acting?” Messitte asked.

Mesitte also took issue with the government’s argument that the required consent was just information rather than a point of eligibility. 

“That’s not very persuasive,” the judge said.

The suit maintains that the written consent requirement is an extra hurdle to resettling refugees and violates the Refugee Act of 1980, which created the modern-day refugee system. The order could prevent refugees who have waited years from being reunited with their U.S.-based families, and communities from welcoming refugees, even if they have long-standing and successful resettlement programs.

HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield referred to the order as “unacceptable and un-American” and called the order a state-by-state, city-by-city refugee ban.

HIAS v. Trump was filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), on behalf of the three faith-based agencies. IRAP attorneys Linda Evarts and Melissa Keaney argued that the order has forced the redirection of thousands of hours away from direct services for refugees as agencies seek consent from different jurisdictions.

Elisabeth Kevorkian, a self-described “privileged immigrant from Germany” who now lives in Greenbelt, appeared pleased with how things went in the courtroom. She said the lawyers for the resettlement agencies were excellent while the government’s side was floundering.

HIAS previously sued the Trump administration in 2017 when it challenged President Trump’s executive order halting refugee resettlement and banning people from seven majority Muslim countries.

The day began with a rally attended by dozens of supporters of refugee resettlement who stood outside the courthouse in frigid temperatures and called for welcoming refugees.

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