SEATTLE - A federal judge in Seattle on Saturday partly lifted a Trump administration ban on certain refugees after two groups argued that the policy prevented people from some mostly Muslim countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States.
U.S. District Judge James Robart heard arguments Thursday in lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Family Service, which said the ban was causing irreparable harm and put some people at risk. Government lawyers argued that the ban was needed to protect national security.
Robart ordered the federal government to process certain refugee applications but said his directive did not apply to people without a "bona fide relationship'' to a person or entity in the United States.
President Donald Trump restarted the refugee program in October "with enhanced vetting capabilities.''
Agency chiefs' memo
The day before his executive order, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats sent a memo to Trump saying certain refugees had to be banned unless additional security measures were implemented.
It applied to the spouses and minor children of refugees who had already settled in the U.S. and suspended the refugee program for people coming from 11 countries, nine of which are mostly Muslim.
In his decision, Robart wrote that "former officials detailed concretely how the agency memo will harm the United States' national security and foreign policy interests.''
Robart said his order restored refugee procedures in programs to what they were before the memo and noted that this already included very thorough vetting of individuals.
The ACLU argued the memo provided no evidence for why additional security was needed and didn't specify a time frame for implementing the changes. The groups said the process for imposing the policy violated a federal law.
August Flentje, a Justice Department attorney, told the judge that the ban was temporary and "was a reasonable and appropriate way for agency heads to tackle gaps'' in the screening process.
The lawsuits from the two groups were consolidated; they represent refugees who have been blocked from entering the country.
The ACLU represents a Somali man living in Washington state who is trying to bring his family to the U.S. They have gone through extensive vetting, have passed security and medical clearances, and just need travel papers, but those were denied after the ban.
Lisa Nowlin, staff attorney for the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement they were happy that their client, "who has not yet had the opportunity to celebrate a single birthday with his younger son in person, will soon have the opportunity to hold his children, hug his wife in the very near future, and be together again as a family for the first time in four years.''
Two other refugees included in the Jewish Family Service lawsuit are former Iraqi interpreters for the U.S. Army whose lives are at risk because of their service.
Another is a transgender woman in Egypt "living in such extremely dangerous circumstances that the U.S. government itself had expedited her case until the ban came down,'' said Mariko Hirose, a lawyer with the Jewish Family Service case.
Yet another is a single woman in Iraq, Hirose said. Her husband divorced her after she was kidnapped and raped by militants because she worked with an American company. Her family is in the U.S. but she's stranded by the ban, Hirose said.