A federal judge expressed skepticism Monday over how the State Department has been carrying out President Trump’s travel ban, saying she thinks the government is “running out the clock” on perhaps more than 100 immigrants who could be shut out when their chance for visas expires in little more than a month.
The State Department has delayed processing of at least 103 applications from people who won the Diversity Visa Lottery — an actual give-away that awards a path to citizenship to 50,000 people a year — but who are also from one of the six countries singled out by Mr. Trump for tight restrictions on admissions.
If the visas aren’t issued by Sept. 30, the would-be migrants lose their chance and would have to go back into the lottery for future years.
The government argues it has little choice but to delay applications under Mr. Trump’s March executive order, saying if they can’t be admitted once they arrive here, then the State Department can’t issue them visas in the first place.
But Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said that would be punishing people for getting snared in the president’s temporary policy, even though if they had more time they might well be admitted.
“If what the State Department is doing is running out the clock on the people, then they are denied a remedy,” she said.
The judge was questioning a June 28 department cable, written after the Supreme Court ruled much of the travel ban could take effect, that ordered visas be denied to any diversity lottery applicants from the six targeted countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — unless they have a close family relationship or get another waiver.
Judge Chutkan said she thought that cable was skewing the treatment for diversity lottery winners, and that was hurting their chances at immigration.
Mr. Trump’s travel ban is slated to expire Sept. 24. That means any diversity lottery folks who’ve been delayed because of it will have less than a week to clear the process.
“The fact that these plaintiffs are from one of the six countries on the list is slowing down their processing,” the judge said.
She said she would issue a ruling in writing, but wondered aloud in court what options she has. She said she doubted she could order the State Department to actually issue the visas, but thought she could order the government to at least go through the process.
But the government’s lawyer, Catherine Dorsey, said in most cases — including the three key plaintiffs — the government is already processing them, and hasn’t got to the point where the travel ban becomes a factor.
The diversity lottery offers an immigrant visa to 50,000 people a year. Some 19 million people applied for the slots, and 84,000 are selected, and then narrowed down to the final 50,000 based on other factors.
Ms. Dorsey said that while the three were all part of the 84,000, it’s not clear they would be part of the final 50,000 because of factors outside of the travel ban. As proof, she said, each of them was already denied once by the State Department even before the travel ban took effect.
Judge Chutkan, an Obama appointee to the bench, had previously ruled Mr. Trump’s broader executive order likely was illegal, but delayed her own ruling because other courts had already blocked Mr. Trump.
All of those rulings were effectively swept away when the Supreme Court in June allowed much of the travel ban to take effect.