Six States Pursuing Legal Action Against Trump’s New Travel Ban

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Protesters from Amnesty International in Sydney, Australia rally against President Donald Trump's new executive order temporarily banning the entry of refugees and travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, on March 9. Jason Reed/Reuters

Five states have now joined Hawaii in filing legal challenges against the updated travel order that temporarily bans people from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

The states of Washington, New York, Oregon, Minnesota and Massachusetts followed Hawaii in filing legal action against the new ban, which was signed by President Donald Trump on Monday. A revision of his first travel ban, which prompted mass protests and chaos at U.S. airports in January, the new order imposes a 90-day ban on people from Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya.

Iraq, which was included in the first ban, was removed from the list of countries this time around. The Trump executive order also includes a 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlement program, although Syrian refugees are no longer indefinitely banned from the U.S. The new ban begins on March 16, one day after Syria marks a grim milestone: the sixth anniversary of its civil war. Green card holders from the affected countries are also now exempt from the law.

The previous executive order was blocked by a federal court.

Related: The U.S. saw a dramatic rise in anti-Muslim hate groups in 2016

States that have joined in legal action against the new ban say it’s essentially no different from the old one. New York says it’s “a Muslim ban by another name,” while Washington says the order has the “same illegal motivations as the original” and will have a negative impact on its residents. Hawaii said the order will harms the state’s Muslim population, and will negatively impact tourism and the ability of foreign students to travel and study.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said on Thursday in response to the Hawaii suit that the administration is “very confident with how that was crafted and the input that was given.” A hearing on the suit is scheduled for U.S. District Court in Honolulu next Wednesday.

“It’s clear that they put more time into it and they tried to follow more normal procedures. They put in justifications,” says Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition. “It’s really hard for it not to look like it’s a Muslim ban disguised in some stronger legal language.”

The new ban will be tougher to challenge in court, says Mackler, because it’s not as broad as the previous iteration. The total ban on Syrian refugees has been eliminated, and language favoring people who are religious minorities in their countries of origin (read: Christian) has also been removed. However, whether the president even has the power to issue such a sweeping order on immigration is still “a question that needs to be addressed,” says Mackler.

That so many states have filed legal action is evidence of a more focused, long-term legal strategy, she says. “My obvious hope is that the courts will strike this down and they’ll find the order unconstitutional,” says Mackler. “As a lawyer, I think we have a shot.”

Another unanswered question is whether the White House will take action against the six states, as it appears to be targeting Republican lawmakers who oppose the health care bill.

“That’s probably more for the states to answer. I think the states will probably defend themselves,” says Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.

“We anticipate a long legal battle, but are hopeful that at the end the courts will see the new order for what it is: a Muslim ban," he says. "We are challenging the revised order because we believe it has the same central constitutional flaws that the initial order had, which is that it discriminates on the basis of religion.”