HONOLULU (CN) – A federal judge in Hawaii heard arguments Wednesday on whether he should extend his temporary block of President Donald Trump’s revised restrictions on entry into the United States by Syrian refugees and travelers from six predominately Muslim nations.
The hearing before U.S. District Judge Derek Watson involved Hawaii's motion to convert the previous order to a preliminary injunction. Unlike the temporary restraining order set to expire late Wednesday, an injunction would continue at the judge's discretion.
Speaking by telephone in place of acting U.S. Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who presented the government's case two weeks ago, Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler sought to narrow the scope of Watson’s previous ruling. He cited the omission of religious references in section 6 of the president's revised travel order and the lack of actual harm suffered by plaintiffs.
Watson bristled at Readler's characterization of Hawaii's concerns as "extremely generalized."
He asked, "I recall an extensive discussion with Mr. Wall. What additional information do you have?"
Readler said the refugee provision has no impact on Hawaii, since the Aloha State has only resettled three refugees from Burma recently.
"What am I to make of those numbers?" Watson asked.
"It's the plaintiff's burden," Readler answered.
"I understand whose burden it is, but you brought it up," Watson shot back.
Readler cited a report on Hawaii's state website regarding an increase in tourism as further evidence of a lack of harm to Hawaii.
But Watson said the government offered no data of its own in support of its claim. Readle offered to provide data after the hearing, but Watson suggested that would be "tardy."
Readler cited similar restraining orders in Maryland and Virginia, where judges confined their orders to section 2 of the president's revised executive order, relating to immigration. Colleen Roh Sinzdak, attorney for co-plaintiff Ismail Elshikh, countered that the judges in those cases said provision 6 warranted further discussion.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin reiterated arguments he made two weeks ago, concluding that despite the revised ban's neutral words, "it's as if there's a flashing neon sign behind them saying 'Muslim ban, Muslim ban.'"
Watson found as much in his original order.
“Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude that the stated secular purpose of the executive order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” he wrote.
Watson said he would decide whether to extend the block before Wednesday is over.
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