Protesters demonstrate against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, March 7, 2017. The new executive order removes citizens of Iraq from the original ban and scraps a provision that explicitly protected religious minorities. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Federal judge in Hawaii halts Trump’s new travel ban

President slams decision

Just hours before the Trump administration’s revised travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world was set to take effect, a federal judge in Hawaii froze the order Wednesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s temporary restraining order blocks the new ban nationwide. This marks the second time that President Donald Trump’s efforts to restrict travel into the United States from specific countries has been blocked by federal courts. Federal judges in Maryland and Washington are considering separate legal challenges.

Details of the Revised Travel Ban

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.

Opponents of the executive order are organizing a protest for Thursday afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Implemented in January, the first ban triggered a large demonstration at the Atlanta airport and sowed confusion and chaos for travelers from affected countries.

Appearing at a rally in Nashville on Wednesday, Trump reacted furiously to the decision in Hawaii and vowed to fight on, saying the nation’s security is at stake. He said his latest directive is a “watered-down version of the first one.”

“Let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place,” he said, his voice growing hoarse. “The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear.”

Watson, a President Barack Obama nominee, wrote in his 43-page decision: “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.” 

Hawaii argued the travel ban would hurt its university system, which recruits students and faculty from the six affected countries, and its main economic driver: tourism.

The Aloha State also contended that — like the original travel order Trump issued in January — the directive amounts to a ban on Muslims and therefore violates the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion.

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.”

Watson pointedly dismissed that argument.

“The illogic of the government’s contentions is palpable,” he wrote in his ruling. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed. The court declines to relegate its Establishment Clause analysis to a purely mathematical exercise.”

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. The states also 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 seeks to bar 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 would be exempted. So would 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 would be halted for 120 days. But Syrian refugees would 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 would drop to 50,000, from the 110,000 goal the Obama administration had set.

Atlanta-area immigrant-rights advocates welcomed the ruling in Hawaii.

“This is yet another significant victory against Trump’s racist and Islamophobic agenda,” said 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.”

“I am relieved that cooler heads are prevailing at this time and I commend the lawyers in Hawaii who have worked so diligently to protect American values,” said Sarah Owings, chairman of the Georgia-Alabama chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Discrimination based on religion is both un-American and unconstitutional.”