Trump refugee ban is stranding hundreds of relatives of Bay Area families, lawsuit says
Nov. 14--A Bay Area refugee group is suing the Trump administration as part of a national lawsuit challenging the White House's latest attempt to ban some refugees from entering the U.S.
Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley filed the lawsuit Monday along with other resettlement groups and individual refugees, arguing that restrictions on refugee admissions from 11 mostly Muslim-majority countries are unconstitutional.
It's the latest chapter in the long-running legal saga over President Donald Trump's travel ban, which he put in place just days after taking office in January. Even after a series of court decisions narrowed the administration's ability to curtail immigration, the latest policy has stranded hundreds of refugees trying to get to the U.S. and to the Bay Area, the plaintiffs say.
"We have husbands trying to join wives, parents trying to join children," said Mindy Berkowitz, the executive director of Jewish Family Services. "It's a horror story."
The White House released a new executive order late last month that allowed refugee resettlement to restart but blocked most refugees from 11 countries for 90 days during a review of vetting policies. The new policy -- laid out in subsequent memorandums -- also bans all refugees from all countries who come to the U.S. under the "follow to join" program, which allows spouses and minor children of refugees already in the U.S. to come from abroad and reunite with them.
The administration has argued that the new policy is necessary to prevent terrorists from getting into the U.S. But opponents say it's another attempt to raise barriers for Muslims: 80 percent of all Muslim refugees who were resettled in the United States in the last two fiscal years came from the 11 targeted countries, according to the lawsuit. In addition, 62 percent of refugees from the top six countries for follow-to-join petitions were Muslim.
The order has left refugees who were in the process of being admitted to the U.S. stranded around the world. Berkowitz's group is working with more than 200 refugees abroad who have been in the process of coming to join family in the Bay Area who are blocked under the executive order. Some are stuck in transit countries where they don't speak the language and can't work, not allowed to come to the U.S. or go home.
"They've already been vetted, they're approved to come, and they're waiting for reunification," Berkowitz said.
The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Seattle, alleges that the latest Trump policy violates the constitution by targeting Muslim refugees and also exceeds the president's legal authority. Similar arguments have been successful in courtrooms around the country for other lawsuits attacking previous permutations of the administration's travel ban. The plaintiffs include a transgender Egyptian refugee trying to escape persecution and a U.S. Army veteran in Texas who's trying to help his Iraqi interpreter get to the U.S.
"There's a whole mountain of case law against the administration, and what it's trying to do here is no different than what courts have already determined is unconstitutional," said Melissa Keaney, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center who's working on the lawsuit.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment Monday about the lawsuit.
The 11 countries targeted under the policy are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Iraq, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, and Egypt.