Federal judge in Hawaii blocks Trump's third travel ban

WASHINGTON — President Trump's third attempt to ban travel from several predominantly Muslim nations met the same fate Tuesday as the first two: It was blocked nationwide by a federal judge in Hawaii.

The ban, which was to go into effect Wednesday, "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor," Judge Derrick Watson wrote. "It lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be 'detrimental to the interests of the United States,'" and it "plainly discriminates based on nationality."

The 40-page ruling will be appealed by the Justice Department, but it throws a monkey wrench into the administration's plans on the eve of the latest ban taking effect.

The White House called Watson's ruling "dangerously flawed" and a threat to national security. It said the latest version of the travel ban was a carefully constructed measure implemented after a thorough review by the departments of Homeland Security, State, Defense and Justice. 

"These restrictions are vital to ensuring that foreign nations comply with the minimum security standards required for the integrity of our immigration system and the security of our Nation," the statement read.

Trump's earlier bans, from January and March, were struck down by several federal courts before the Supreme Court allowed part of the second ban to take effect in late June. That ban expired last month, to be replaced by an indefinite prohibition against some travelers from an expanded group of countries.

Trump's third version blocks specific travelers from five of the original nations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — along with Chad, North Korea and Venezuela. Iraq and Sudan were subtracted from the list in March and September, respectively.

The latest travel ban also has been challenged in federal court in Maryland, where oral arguments were held Monday.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin heralded Watson's ruling against a ban that he said "discriminates against people based on their nation of origin or religion."

"Today is another victory for the rule of law," Chin said. "We stand ready to defend it.”

In his decision, Watson said the ban was "simultaneously overbroad and underinclusive" because it targets entire countries rather than dangerous individuals, yet leaves out even potentially dangerous individuals from most countries.

Trump, he said, does not have "unbridled discretion to do as he pleases."

"National security and the protection of our borders is unquestionably also of significant public interest," Watson said. "Although national security interests are legitimate objectives of the highest order, they cannot justify the public’s harms when the president has wielded his authority unlawfully."

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Watson's ruling reignited what has now been a nine-month battle over Trump's ability to restrict travel from countries he deems to foster terrorists.

The Trump administration has argued that the government needed to freeze travel from several countries that it considers threats to national security because of their ties to terrorism and the possibility of its nationals infiltrating the United States to commit atrocities.

The president used the same argument to freeze all refugee admissions, specifically focusing on Syrian refugees as having a heightened possibility of terrorist ties.

Trump relied on a provision of federal law that allows a president to bar admission to "any aliens or of any class of alien" that he declares are "detrimental to the interests of the United States."

But in each case, federal judges have pointed to another federal law passed years later that prohibits immigration restrictions based solely on a person's country of birth.

That's why U.S. District Judge Judge James Robart blocked Trump's first attempt at a travel ban a week after it went into effect. That was also the argument used by Watson when he struck down Trump's second attempt at a travel ban in March.

That ruling was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Trump could implement a watered-down version of the ban. The court ruled that the administration could bar people from the targeted countries who had no ties whatsoever to U.S. people, businesses or universities, but ruled that foreigners with "bona fide" relationships to U.S. people or entities must be allowed to enter the country.

The government implemented that temporary ban and was preparing to implement its more long-term restrictions on Wednesday. Then Watson stepped in.

In Tuesday's ruling, Watson agreed that a president has broad powers to restrict immigration to protect the homeland. But he ruled that power is not universal and must be balanced against the interests of U.S. citizens who would be damaged by the illegal ban.

"It’s clear that President Trump’s third travel ban is still a Muslim Ban by another name, with the same unlawful goals as the first and the second — and I’m glad that today, the court stopped it from taking effect," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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