State and local officials cannot block refugee admissions in their jurisdictions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, finding that the Trump administration's new refugee policy is probably "illegal."
Federal District Judge Peter J. Messitte of Maryland temporarily suspended President Trump's executive order that requires governors and local officials across the country to agree in writing to welcome refugees.
"Granting states and local governments the power to consent to the resettlement of refugees, that is, the veto power to determine whether refugees will be received in their midst, opposes the clear intention of Congress," Messitte wrote in A 31 page decision page.
The judge said that the administration order and "the granting of veto power is arbitrary and capricious, as well as inherently susceptible to hidden prejudices."
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by three refugee resettlement agencies that work with the State Department to receive adults and children who fled war and persecution abroad.
Trump issued the order in September to give voice to locals in the federal resettlement process for the first time and promised to resettle refugees only in areas "anxious and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the workforce."
But resettlement agencies argued in court that the new consent requirement has caused chaos and confusion, and threatens to dismantle a support network that connects refugees with the housing, work and English classes necessary to begin their new Life in the United States. And, critics argued that nothing in Trump's order prevents refugees from ultimately moving to states like Texas that have said they don't want new refugees.
The resettlement agencies had asked Messitte to govern quickly because letters of approval must be submitted starting January 21 if refugees begin arriving in June.
So far, 42 governors and more than 100 local governments have signed letters of acceptance, according to the Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service, one of the resettlement agencies that filed the lawsuit. Seven states have not said whether they will accept refugees: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Hawaii and Wyoming.
Texas became the first state last week to publicly refuse to resettle new refugees, and Governor Greg Abbott (R) said the state "has taken more than its due." The state received more refugees than any other last fiscal year.
Trump issued the order after setting the annual annual refugee limit for this fiscal year at a record low of 18,000, down from 110,000 in 2016.
Trump administration attorneys defended the policy and described the new approach as a "common sense requirement" for an "improved consultation" with local governments that, according to them, should be carried out before refugees are established "within of its borders. " The order is limited because refugees can still travel to any part of the United States once they are legally admitted.
In court last week, the judge repeatedly expressed skepticism that Trump has the power to allow individual governors and county executives to block refugee settlement in their jurisdictions.
Justice Department attorney Bradley Humphreys said the consent order does not grant local officials the power to "veto" and said the secretary of state could overturn a local determination.
Refugee groups said the rule could prevent refugees from reuniting with their US-based families. UU. In communities that have long hosted refugees.
"While states and localities should be consulted on resettlement, they should not decide where or if refugees are resettled," according to the lawsuit filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project on behalf of HIAS, Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The lawyers said the president's executive order disagrees with federal law and criticized the administration for not providing sufficient justification or opportunity to comment before imposing a new requirement on refugee agencies, which annually request federal money.
The Justice Department attorney said there are no notification requirements for such changes, and that the lawsuit is premature because no decisions have been made on the funding of refugee organizations.
"Is there a limit to what you can do in an executive order?" Messitte asked during the court hearing. "Are you making it up as you go?"
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