Court upholds ban on order letting states refuse refugees

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a ruling halting an executive order by President Donald Trump that gave state and local governments the ability to shut out refugees.

The three-judge panel said the executive order that required both state and local entities to give their consent before allowing refugees to be placed in their areas “would cause inequitable treatment of refugees and undermine the very national consistency that the Refugee Act is designed to protect.”

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte of Maryland blocked the executive order in January of 2020, six months before it was to go into effect. Messitte said the process of resettling refugees should continue as it has for nearly 40 years, with resettlement agencies deciding where a person would best thrive.

Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and HIAS — a Jewish nonprofit — sued in November of 2019 to block the executive order. The agencies said the executive order was an attempt at a state-by-state ban on refugees.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the agencies were prepared to go to the Supreme Court had they lost the appeal.

Only one state, Texas, had said it would use the new power to stop refugee resettlement.

“What made me worry about the executive order was it reflected the desire to make this program susceptible to political pandering when you’re talking about lives on line,” she said. “That was deeply troubling.”

Now O’Mara Vignarajah said the agencies can concentrate on rebuilding the program that had been crippled by the Trump administration over the past four years and is expected to be restored by President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump drastically lowered the refugee admissions cap on the number of refugees allowed into the United States each year. This year he set the cap at 15,000, a record low.

Biden has pledged to set the annual refugee admissions cap at 125,000.

“This makes was is already going to be a significant undertaking in ramping things back up a little bit easier,” O’Mara Vignarajah said.

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