Just 20 out of more than 530,000 refugees settled in the United States since 2010 were brought to Hawaii for resettlement, Trump administration officials noted in court as they fought to have the president’s executive order on travel and refugees reinstated.
Justice Department attorneys cited the data as a means to undercut the Hawaii Attorney General’s arguments that the president’s revised executive order would harm the state.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson heard arguments Wednesday over whether to convert his prior temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction, which would keep the Trump administration’s travel ban on hold while the case works its way through the courts.
The judge said he would issue a written ruling by the day’s end, Hawaii time.
The Justice Department is hoping to convince the judge not to extend his order, which since March 15 has prevented the administration from enforcing portions of the revised order that temporarily bans travel of foreign nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to the Uu.S., temporarily blocks all refugee resettlement in the U.S., and lowers the cap on the number of refugees to be allowed in this year from 110,000 people to 50,000 people.
Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said the policy discriminates against Muslims and hurts the state’s economy. The implied message in the revised ban is like a “neon sign flashing ‘Muslim Ban, Muslim Ban’” that the government didn’t bother to turn off, he said.
If Judge Watson plans to extend his order, Justice Department attorneys argued that he could scale back its scope so that the refugee restrictions of the order could take effect.
The DOJ argued that plaintiffs in the case have not provided adequate evidence that they are harmed by that part of the executive order.
In briefs submitted last week, the Justice Department argued that most of Hawaii’s arguments against the order were focused on the harms the travel restrictions would cause the state’s economy or tourism industry, with little attention paid to the effects of the refugee restrictions.
“The State’s TRO briefing barely discussed the refugee provisions at all, relegating them to occasional references in passing,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in briefs filed last week.
DOJ attorneys this week filed a declaration from Lawrence Bartlett, the director of the State Department’s Refugee Admissions Office, which details the small number of refugees resettled in Hawaii over the past seven years.
For several years no refugees were resettled in the state, according to the filing. The most refugees ever relocated to the Aloha State over that period was in fiscal 2015 when seven refugees were resettled there.
Judge Watson said Wednesday that it wasn’t clear whether the refugee freeze was motivated by the same religious bias as the travel limits — which affect six majority-Muslim countries — but he didn&’t appear entirely convinced by the Justice Department’s arguments.
“Is this a mathematical exercise that 20 isn&’t enough? … What do I make of that?” Judge Watson asked Justice attorney Chad Readler,who replied that 20 is simply a small number of refugees.
“In whose judgment?” Judge Watson asked.
Constitutional harm exists regardless of the number of people affected or for how long, Mr. Chin said.