D.C. Judge Shields Diversity Visa Winners From Trump's Travel Ban, Otherwise Upholds It

A Washington, D.C. federal judge has partially blocked the Trump Administration's ban on green card applicants, diversity visa lottery winners, and other foreign guest workers from entering the U.S.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta temporarily barred the federal government from applying its visa ban to diversity visa lottery winners and their relatives that would prevent them from receiving their visas before the September 30 deadline.

Mehta ordered the Trump administration to undertake "good faith efforts" to "expeditiously process and adjudicate" those applications and renewals by the deadline and the end of the government's fiscal year.

The 2014 Obama appointee otherwise upheld the president's decision to block U.S. entry by temporary work visa holders, green card applicants and others. The orders will continue to prevent applicants from entering the U.S. through the end of the year, but they don't prevent the State Department from issuing visas.

The State Department had provided "no justification" for suspending visa processing and could not explain why it had stopped the progress of visas for lottery winners. Immigration law states that if lottery winners don't receive their visas by the September 30 deadline, they lose their visas entirely.

Though Mehta ordered relief for the diversity lottery winners, he declined from shielding other visa applicants, including those seeking green cards through relatives and those requesting work visas.

The order comes after immigration attorneys argued for nearly four hours on August 27 in five consolidated lawsuits challenging two presidential proclamations signed by President Donald Trump in April and June, which barred green card applicants, diversity visa lottery winners, and foreign guest workers from entering the U.S. All visa categories mentioned in the June 22 proclamation—including H-1B and H-4 visas used by workers and their relatives in specialty occupations; L visas for intra-company transfers; and most J visas for work- and study-abroad—are denied entry into the U.S. through the end of the year.

The Trump administration claimed the move was necessary to protect jobs for U.S. workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The plaintiffs—comprised of a group of over 1,000 American citizens with relatives overseas, U.S.-based employers, diversity visa lottery winners, and foreign nationals with approved petitions for temporary worker visas—argued against the idea that immigrants would displace American workers. The plaintiffs also argued that the president overstepped his authority when barring their entry into the U.S. and "the president's preexisting animus toward the diversity visa program" made the proclamations unconstitutional.

U.S. ICE & Immigration Protest
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12: Hundreds of people gather outside immigration services building in Foley Square Manhattan for a "Lights for Liberty" protest against immigrant detention camps and the imminent Immigration raids by ICE on July 12, 2019. New York. Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress/Corbis

The judge's decision as to the unconstitutionality of the proclamations was deferred to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, where justices upheld the travel ban on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.

"Diversity visa lottery winners are people who have come to this nation, like millions before, to seek a better life for themselves and their families, and to pursue the American Dream. They do not deserve to be caricatured as common criminals, or to be used as a political wedge issue," Mehta wrote. "But for the same reasons that the court in Trump v. Hawaii rejected a similar challenge based on purported religious animus, the court does so here, too."

The judge did find that the plaintiffs are "substantially likely to succeed" on claims that the State Department's refusal to review and adjudicate non-exempt visas is likely illegal, "in excess of statutory authority, and is arbitrary and capricious."

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek: "The Department is aware of the court's ruling and is reviewing the decision with the Department of Justice."

Mehta denied requests by the remaining plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction, ordering them to file a joint status by September 25.

The case is Gomez et al v. Trump, D.D.C., No. 1:20-cv-01419, opinion 9/4/20.

Updated 2:36 PM ET: with a statement from the State Department.