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HIAS, Refugee Agencies Sue Pres. Trump Over Executive Order

Nov 21, 2019

Blog Post

Sharon Samber, HIAS.org

President Donald Trump photographed on September 26, 2019, the day he signed the executive order giving state and local officials authority to block refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions.

(Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Today HIAS, together with two other refugee resettlement agencies, took President Trump to court over his recent executive order giving state and local officials authority to block refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions.

HIAS, Church World Service (CWS), and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) are suing the administration because it is attempting to enact a state-by-state, city-by-city refugee ban.

“It was not that long ago that Jews and African-Americans were banned from living in certain neighborhoods and towns. We fought to end that discrimination and humiliation. Now the Trump Administration has issued an executive order which allows states and localities to ban resettled refugees? We won't tolerate such intolerance,” said Mark Hetfield, HIAS President and CEO. “We are, once again, suing the federal government to end this unlawful and immoral state and local refugee ban.”

The lawsuit charges that the order is yet another attempt by the Trump administration to dismantle the nearly 40-year-old federal resettlement infrastructure and restrict refugees from entering the United States. The order could prevent refugees who have waited years and passed all vetting from being reunited with their U.S.-based families. Communities could also be stopped from welcoming refugees, even if they have long-standing and successful resettlement programs.

The president's order, signed on September 26, would require resettlement agencies, including HIAS, CWS, and LIRS, to obtain written consent from all localities and states in which they plan to resettle refugees. If written consent cannot be obtained, it could prevent resettlement agencies from maintaining local affiliate offices that provide essential services to refugees already in the area. 

According to the complaint, filed this morning in U.S. District Court in Maryland, the executive order violates federal law, which requires federal agencies to make decisions about where refugees are to be placed within the United States according to a detailed list of factors, leaving no room for state and local governments to veto such decisions.

HIAS sued the Trump administration in 2017, when the president’s executive order called for halting refugee resettlement and banning people from seven majority Muslim countries with an exception for non-Muslim religious minorities.

HIAS, CWS, and LIRS, are represented by the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). The defendants are President Trump; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

Melissa Keaney, Senior Litigation Staff Attorney for IRAP called the order “a back-door attempt to decimate the refugee resettlement program.” and noted that a single local politician should not be able to stop Americans who have been waiting years to reunite with family members.

A copy of the complaint is available here.