2017 Minneapolis protest against refugee ban. Photo by 'Fibonacci Blue,' Creative Commons license 2.0

A federal judge in Maryland ruled Wednesday that Donald Trump's executive order giving state and local officials the power to reject refugee resettlement is "unlawful" and doesn't "appear to serve the overall public interest." The executive order, issued in September when the Stephen Miller administration announced the US would slash refugee admissions to the lowest level in modern history, had required that before any refugees can be resettled, state governors or local officials would have to give their express written consent.

In his ruling, US District Judge Peter J. Messitte wrote that

Giving states and local governments the power to consent to the resettlement of refugees — which is to say veto power to determine whether refugees will be received in their midstflies in the face of clear Congressional intent.

If you're a nerd who enjoys reading court decisions, check it out. It's very clearly argued, and you get the sense Judge Messitte found the government's arguments insultingly bad.

Ruling in favor of three refugee resettlement agencies who sued to block the executive order, Messitte pointed out that since Congress set the existing laws governing refugees in the Refugee Act of 1980, the existing system of placing refugees has worked just fine, with refugees first being screened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, then vetted by the State Department, and finally settled by nonprofits that work with State and with local governments to make sure refugees get support in the communities and find jobs and all that.

Messitte points out that Congress's language is very clear about the role state and local governments should play in refugee placements, noting the 1980 law speaks only in terms of "consulting," "consultation," and a requirement that agencies meet regularly with state and local governments to "plan and coordinate" refugee placements. The law says "maximum consideration" should be given to any "recommendations" states might make to the federal government, but that's a far cry from veto power, thank you very much.

"The challenged Order," Messitte writes, "definitely appears to undermine this arrangement," because a state or local veto power straight up cuts out any role for one of the parties Congress specifically wanted involved in placing refugees:

Those State and Local Governments can simply give or withhold their written consents to the resettlement of refugees within their borders. If they do not consent — apparently for any reason or for no reason — there will be no resettlement in that entire State or in that local community. Resettlement Agencies will be totally sidelined.

Messitte got a little cute summing that up: "In other words, as the screens in e-sports inevitably register: 'Game Over'." At least he didn't append the clip from Aliens.


Messitte also found that the executive order was sloppily written, and failed to consider the chaos that would result in what had been a smooth-running refugee placement system -- not just for the refugee agencies, but also for the sponsors who have already prepared to receive and support refugees, many of whom are family members already living in the US. And since state or local authorities don't have to give any reason at all for rejecting refugees, the order was "arbitrary and capricious as well as inherently susceptible to hidden bias." Not that the people pushing to restrict refugees are all that adept at hiding their bias.

Most egregiously, the order ignores both Congress's intent in writing the law, and for that matter the Constitution, he found. In 1986, Congress added to the law those provisions requiring regular consultation with state and local officials, but the House Judiciary Committee report was very specific in saying the goal was to make sure state and local governments have input into the process. But that's all -- the law is "not intended to give States and localities any veto power over refugee placement decisions" -- which is why the order "flies in the face of" Congress's intent.

To cap things off, Messitte reminds the administration that immigration decisions are solely a federal responsibility and that local governments can't set immigration policy, which was the reason Arizona's "Papers Please" law was largely thrown out by the courts. Messitte notes that's the basis on which three 2016 federal court decisions threw out attempts by state and local governments to block refugees during the most recent Big Refugee Panic over scary Syrian children who might do terrism just like in Paris.

We're pretty sure Messitte knows as well as we do the answer to his own question in the ruling:

One is left to wonder exactly what the rationale is for doing away entirely with a process that has worked so successfully for so long. And why now?

The ruling puts on hold a January 21 deadline that would have required all resettlement agencies to get written permission from state and local authorities for all refugee placements. The Washington Post notes that while "42 governors and more than 100 local governments have signed letters of acceptance," seven other states -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Wyoming -- haven't said one way or the other, which has led to confusion and anxiety for the agencies and their clients. Only one state, Texas, has said it would reject new refugees, and Messitte's ruling puts that fuckery on hold.

So hooray, we won't yet be dismantling the system that has provided relief to people who have suffered incredibly from war, discrimination, and natural disasters. At least not until Donald Trump's Supreme Court decides otherwise.

[WaPo / HIAS et al v. Trump / Vox / Photo by 'Fibonacci Blue,' Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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