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Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration’s Executive Order on Refugee Resettlement

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing the president’s executive order allowing state, local officials to reject resettling refugees in their jurisdictions.

Three national refugee resettlement agencies are suing the Trump administration to challenge the executive order, arguing that the executive order conflicts with the 1980 Refugee Act.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction, stating that the agencies are likely to succeed in showing that the executive order is unlawful.

President Trump in September capped the number of refugees the U.S. will accept to just 18,000 from Obama’s high of 110,000 in 2016, meaning a maximum of 18,000 refugees can be resettled in the U.S. between October 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020.

The administration also said it would prioritize refugees “who have been persecuted for religious beliefs, Iraqis who have helped the U.S. overseas, and legitimate refugees from Northern Triangle countries.”   In his Executive Order, the president said that states and municipalities must give written consent before refugees can be resettled in their jurisdictions.

In November, the Trump administration issued an executive order stating that resettlement agencies must get written consent from officials in any jurisdiction where they want to resettle refugees because the agencies were not working closely enough with local officials on resettling the refugees. The executive order was designed to respect the rights of communities that believe they do not have the resources to be able to take in refugees.

Messitte, a Clinton appointed judge, concluded that Trump’s order didn’t serve the “overall public interest,” according to the Washington Post.

Agency leaders say the order effectively gives governors and county leaders a veto in the resettlement process. The agencies also argue the order illegally conflicts with the 1980 Refugee Act.

Messitte concluded Trump’s order doesn’t appear to serve the “overall public interest.”

“Refugee resettlement activity should go forward as it developed for the almost 40 years before the (executive order) was announced,” he wrote.

During a hearing last week, the judge signaled what his ruling would be when he said the president was essentially changing federal law with his executive order.

Justice Department attorney Bradley Humphreys argued the Refugee Act allowed the president to make such a change, but Messitte was unpersuaded.

“Why change it now?” the judge asked. “Is it purely a political thing?”

Humphreys said the executive order is designed to enhance the involvement of state and local officials in the process of resettling refugees. But he insisted it doesn’t give them a veto over resettlement decisions.

Messitte said it “borders on Orweillian Newspeak” for the administration to claim that the order is meant to merely “enhance the consultation” between the federal governments and the states and localities.
“It grants them veto power. Period,” he wrote in his order.

And giving that veto power to the state and local governments “flies in the face of clear Congressional intent,” the judge concluded.

Judge Messitte, 78, was confirmed by the United States Senate in October of 1993, and assumed senior status in September of 2008. His tenure has not been without controversy.

The judge in July of 2014 banned the use of the word “Redskins” in his courtroom and in court documents in a procedural order for a lawsuit against the Washington, D.C., football team.

And last July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overruled a previous Messitte ruling against the president, saying he had “abused his discretion.”

Messitte in July of 2018 denied Trump’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Maryland and the District of Columbia for his alleged violation of the emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals found that he had “abused his discretion for refusing to certify an interlocutory appeal” and that the plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue the underlying case.

In throwing out this latest suit, the Fourth Circuit chastised the plaintiffs for wasting the court’s time with a plainly meritless case.

The court also scolded federal judge Peter Messitte, a Clinton appointee, for not throwing out the case sooner and for refusing to let the president appeal his erroneous rulings. Judge Messitte’s faulty reasoning “blinks reality,” the court said, and his actions “amounted to a clear abuse of discretion.”

Judge Messitte’s rulings were so erroneous that the Fourth Circuit didn’t even wait for an appeal.  It accepted the president’s request for writ of mandamus — a rarely granted procedural tool that allows early review of an otherwise non-appealable issue — to take the case away from Judge Messitte, reverse his rulings, and force him to throw the case out for good, without the possibility of further appeal.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the first governor to announce that his state would not accept new refugees this year, saying in a a letter last week that Texas “has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”

In 2018, Texas reportedly took in more refugees than any other state.

O’Mara Vignarajah, the head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the agencies that filed the lawsuit, said that Messitte’s ruling basically “reopens the door for now to refugees being resettled in Texas.”

“It’s a significant day in which the rule of law won,” Vignarajah told the Post.