A U.S. appeals court in San Francisco says it will rule "as soon as possible" on whether a federal judge had the legal grounds to suspend President Donald Trump's ban last month on immigration from seven Muslim majority countries.
A lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department and an attorney representing the states of Washington and Minnesota, which are suing to stop the ban, presented their arguments by telephone before a three-judge appellate panel Tuesday.
U.S. attorney August Flentje said Trump's executive order was well within his power granted by Congress and the Constitution, letting him set "adequate standards" in screening would-be travelers to the U.S. who need visas.
He pointed out that Congress and the former Obama administration determined that the seven countries named in the order - Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen - were of concern to authorities because they pose a risk of terrorism or give terrorists a safe haven.
Flentje said a number of Somalis arrested in the U.S. have ties to al-Shabab terrorists.
The U.S. attorney acknowledged that the case has moved too fast to give the government enough time to provide all the evidence to support Trump's order. But he said the Washington state federal district judge's order last week putting it on hold was "over-broad" and overrode presidential authority.
Washington state Solicitor General Noah Purcell told the appeals court the Trump administration wants to reinstate the travel ban without a full judicial review, throwing the country "back into chaos."
When questioned what harm the travel ban has done to Washington state residents, Purcell said it separated families, stranded students overseas, and left people in doubt about whether they should travel because of the uncertainty of whether they could come back.
When challenged about whether the travel ban discriminated against Muslims because the vast majority are unaffected, Purcell argued that not every Muslim has to be hurt for it to be unconstitutional. He told the judges the president's order was designed in part to harm Muslims, noting that Trump called for a total ban on Muslim immigration during his campaign.
Other States File Briefs
Attorneys general in 15 other states have filed briefs in support of Washington and Minnesota. The American Civil Liberties Union, nearly 100 corporations, and a group of Democrats that includes former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, also filed briefs.
All sides expect the issue to wind up before the Supreme Court.
U.S. District Court Judge James Robart's decision Friday suspending Trump's executive order has the president fuming.
"I actually can't believe that we're having to fight to protect the security, in a court system, to protect the security of our nation," Trump said Tuesday.
He earlier tweeted that Robart is a "so-called judge" and that the American people should blame him and the court system if "something happens."
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended the ban. He took responsibility for its unwieldy rollout and mass confusion over who was covered by the ban and who should be allowed to enter the U.S. He told the House Homeland Security Committee there was a lack of communication with Congress and that the travel ban should have been delayed "just a bit."
But he defended it against Democratic critics who call it a ban on Muslims, saying the terror risk, not religion, was the key factor in the president's order.
"It's not being done because they're Muslim countries," Kelly testified. "It's being done because we don't trust their vetting or their information."
Kelly characterized the ban as a needed pause in immigration from countries where conditions on the ground prevented the U.S. from adequately vetting applicants.
The new Homeland Security secretary told members of Congress that while he respects the decisions of the judicial branch, he approaches the issue of border security from a different perspective.
"In their courtrooms they're protected by people like me. So they can have those discussions and if something bad happens from letting people in, they don't come to the judge and ask about his ruling, they come to people like me."
If the case eventually goes to the Supreme Court, the nation's highest judicial body, one analyst told VOA there are rulings from the past that could support Trump's policy.
New York-based attorney Dan McLaughlin, told VOA Persian’s New Horizon show "The Supreme Court has held for a long time that Congress has nearly unlimited authority in deciding who can enter the country — an authority that includes excluding people from particular countries, as it did with Chinese immigration in the 1880s.”
McLaughlin said, “Because the president is relying on an authority delegated to him by Congress, he has a broad authority to act on immigration within the law, whether you think his policy is wise or not."
But he added that Trump’s prominent advocacy of a U.S. ban on all immigration by Muslims could come back to weaken his case before the Supreme Court.
"There’s no question that the president has a legacy of comments that are going to make it more difficult for him to defend [his executive order on immigration in court and the public," McLaughlin said.
VOA's Katherine Gypson , Mohammad Manzarpour, Parisa Farhadi contributed to this report. Some material in this report from AP.