Judge Blocks Executive Order That Would Allow States, Cities to Reject All Refugees

The White House reacted angrily to a federal court’s temporary block of an executive order that would have allowed state and local governments to completely turn away refugees.

President Trump’s September order said that “the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall develop and implement a process to determine whether the State and locality both consent, in writing, to the resettlement of refugees within the State and locality, before refugees are resettled within that State and locality under the Program.”

The order added that “close cooperation with State and local governments ensures that refugees are resettled in communities that are eager and equipped to support their successful integration into American society and the labor force.”

Ruling on a challenge from refugee advocates HIAS, Church World Service and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Judge Peter J. Messitte of the Maryland District Court granted the injunction on the likelihood that the groups would win their case against the administration. The groups argued that the administration sought “to deprive thousands of refugees of their best chance to successfully build a new life.”

Messitte found that giving states and cities veto power over accepting refugees gives them too much power in a federal process, and that “does not appear to serve the overall public interest.”

“Refugee resettlement activity should go forward as it developed for the almost 40 years before Executive Order 13888 was announced,” he wrote.

Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said that “Americans should be proud of the court’s decision that enables the continued resettlement of refugees in our communities based on existing policy, not on a political agenda.”

“The fact that 42 governors, including 19 Republican governors, and more than 100 local governments already signed letters affirming their support for refugee resettlement shows us that Americans are committed to welcoming the stranger and value the great economic and social contributions that refugees make in our communities,” he added.

The first state to tell the federal government that it didn’t want any more refugees was Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott, who sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week stating that the state had been “left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system” and Texas “cannot consent to initial refugee resettlement for FY2020.”

“Since FY2010, more refugees have been received in Texas than in any other state,” Abbott wrote. “In fact, over that decade, roughly 10% of all refugees resettled in the United States have been placed in Texas.”

Along with criticism from immigration advocates, all 16 of Texas’ Catholic bishops decried Abbott’s decision, saying in a statement that it “denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”

The White House said in response to the ruling that “another lawless district court has asserted its own preferred immigration policy in place of the laws of the United States – and, in so doing, robbed millions of American citizens of their voice and their say in a vital issue directly affecting their communities.”

“President Trump rightly and justly recognized that your communities are unique, and while some cities have the resources to adequately support refugees and help them be successful, not all communities can sustain the substantial and costly burden,” the statement continued. “Knowing that, the Trump administration fulfilled a key promise by giving States and localities a seat at the table in deciding whether or not refugees will be placed in your communities.”

The administration argued that under the Refugee Act of 1980 Congress “explicitly afforded the president authority over the refugee resettlement process, including by taking local consultation into account.”

“This is a preposterous ruling, one more example of nationwide district court injunctions run amok, and we are expeditiously reviewing all options to protect our communities and preserve the integrity of the refugee resettlement process,” the statement concluded.

Messitte ruled that the administration appeared to be running afoul of the Refugee Act of 1980. “The objectives of this Act are to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted,” the judge wrote.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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