A sweeping challenge by two refugee rights groups to President Trump’s orders limiting immigration of people from Mideast nations suddenly accelerated in a federal court in Maryland on Friday afternoon.
With a hearing now set for next Wednesday morning in Greenbelt, MD, the case of International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump emerged as one of the earliest tests of whether the Trump efforts will be stalled again by the courts, as they were last month when the first presidential order was barred from enforcement.
The hearing in Maryland will happen exactly five hours ahead of a similar proceeding in Honolulu. The Hawaii case is a challenge by that state; it was the first new case to be filed after the White House released a revised executive order to curb entry into the U.S. by foreign nationals from the Mideast, applying to six Muslim-majority nations.
Although Administration officials and lawyers have argued that the new version of the order overcomes the objections found by the courts in the original one, all of the challengers now pursuing constitutional claims insist that the second attempt is just as flawed and remains a “Muslim ban.”
While state governments have been prominently involved in the court challenges, the Maryland case is being pursued by two high-profile organizations that work to protect the rights and opportunities of refugees. The International Refugee Assistance Project, founded by Yale Law School students in 1980 and now a part of the New York City-based Urban Justice Center, provides free legal aid. It is joined in the case by the Maryland-based HIAS, Inc., founded in the 1880s and described as the nation’s oldest refugee resettlement agency. Also involved in that case are seven Maryland individuals of Mideastern heritage.
The case has been pending before U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang since early February. It began as a broad challenge claiming that the original Trump order of January 27 was unconstitutional as a form of religious and national origin discrimination, and was illegal under federal religious freedom and immigration laws.
After a federal judge in Seattle, in a separate case, blocked most of the main provisions of the first Trump order, the Maryland case changed its focus temporarily to a challenge to a part of the order not blocked in Seattle. That is a section that cut the national ceiling for the entry of refugees this year from 110,000 to 50,000. That provision was the same in both Trump orders.
That separate claim had yet to be decided when, on Friday, lawyers for the challengers filed a new complaint, reviving all of the sweeping constitutional and statutory claims and aiming them at the revised White House order. The lawyers also are now seeking a court order to block enforcement of that order in its entirety. That is the key issue that Judge Chuang will be considering at the Wednesday morning hearing. The revised executive order is scheduled to go into effect at one minute after midnight that night.
In Honolulu, the Wednesday hearing five hours later will be before U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson.
(UPDATE: The following three paragraphs have now become superseded by the post that appears just above this one.)
The one uncertainty as of Friday about which court might be the first to act on the revised immigration policy is keyed to new developments in the Seattle courtroom of U.S. District Judge James L. Robart, who had blocked the first White House order.
There, lawyers for the states of Washington and Minnesota are now attempting to persuade the Seattle judge to simply extend the enforcement bar to the second order. The judge apparently could do that swiftly, in a quite simple order. Those two states’ challenge has just been joined by the state of Oregon, and will soon be joined by the states or Massachusetts and New York.
The Trump Administration has told the Seattle judge that his bar to enforcement only applied to the original executive order, and that there is no need to stop the revised version.