A federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday halted the Trump administration’s revised travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world just a day before the executive order was to take effect.
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s temporary restraining order blocks the ban nationwide. The directive – which was set to start at 12:01 a.m. Thursday – has potential impacts for the Atlanta region, a tourism destination with the world’s busiest airport, a substantial foreign-born population and businesses and institutions with international connections.
“Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this court,” Watson, a President Barack Obama nominee, wrote in his 43-page decision.
Hawaii argued that – like the original travel ban issued in January – the directive amounts to a ban on Muslims and therefore violates the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.
“This is yet another significant victory against Trump’s racist and Islamophobic agenda,” Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for an Atlanta immigrant rights advocacy group called Project South. “Even as a temporary hold on Muslim Ban 2.0, this decision shows that federal courts are highly skeptical of the rationale behind the Muslim and refugee ban put forth by the federal government and will continue to uphold the Constitution.”
The White House and Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. But President Donald Trump has denied his order is a “Muslim ban.” And in court papers filed in Hawaii this week, the Justice Department pointed out that only a fraction of the world’s Muslim-majority countries are covered by the ban.
“And the suspension covers every national of those countries, including millions of non-Muslim individuals in those countries,” the Justice Department said, “if they meet the order’s criteria.”
Federal judges in Maryland and Washington are considering separate legal challenges. The judge in Maryland, according to the Associated Press, said he would try to rule before the end of the Wednesday, but he made no promises that his ruling would apply nationwide or address the executive order in its entirety.
Several state attorneys general and civil rights groups are suing to block the directive, arguing it is unconstitutional. The White House says the executive order is a legal directive aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. On Wednesday in Maryland, Trump administration attorneys argued the executive order had been revised to address legal concerns, including the argument that it discriminates against Muslims. For example, the government removed an exemption for religious minorities from the six countries, an exception seen as favoring Christians.
“It doesn’t say anything about religion. It doesn’t draw any religious distinctions,” Jeffrey Wall, who argued for the Justice Department, told the Maryland court, according to the AP.
Last month, a federal appeals court based in San Francisco upheld a temporary restraining order against Trump’s first travel ban. In that case, the states of Washington and Minnesota argued the directive was hurting their economies and universities and that it violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. The states pointed out that Trump campaigned on “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Parts of his executive order, according to the states, were “intended to disfavor Islam and favor Christianity.”
The new order bars visitors from some six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Iraq — a major ally in the fight against the Islamic State — has been dropped from the original list of seven nations. Travelers with valid visas will be exempted. So will green card holders, some of whom were detained in January at Atlanta’s Airport after returning from trips to Iran.
Also, the nation’s refugee resettlement program will be halted for 120 days. But Syrian refugees will not be barred indefinitely as the original order required. Further, the total number of refugees who may be resettled in the U.S. in the fiscal year ending in September will drop to 50,000, from the 110,000 goal the Obama administration had set.