GREENBELT, Md. (CN) – After two hours of arguments Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s revised executive order targeting Muslim immigrants, a federal judge said he will decide soon whether to enjoin the so-called travel ban.
The order Trump signed on March 6 is set to take effect at midnight Thursday, but U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang did not specify whether he would issue his ruling before that time.
Trump issued the revised order after the first version of the ban he issued in late January proved unlikely to survive a battery of court challenges.
In the challenge at hand, immigration groups and several individuals contend that the new order has done little to improve the discrimination against Muslims that made the first order unsound.
“At 12:01 am tomorrow morning, there will be an official policy in this country, barring an injunction, condemning Islam,” Justin Cox, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, told the Maryland court at Wednesday morning’s hearing.
Attorneys for the government insisted meanwhile that the new order serves only to protect national security and does not specifically seek to prevent Muslims from entering the country.
Showing little heed of the single hour initially allotted for the hearing, Chuang grilled both sides in his cramped second-floor courtroom.
The judge seemed interested specifically in how he could stop the president from exercising his broad and rarely overruled control over immigration, wondering whether he would have to find the national-security concerns Trump cited as reason for the order to be “a sham.”
“On what basis can I just completely overrule that?” Chuang asked Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the challengers with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Jadwat maintained that, while the president does have some latitude in immigration matters, it stops short of allowing the discrimination his clients claim is the basis of the new executive order.
Pushing back, attorneys for the government said that the order specifically targets a national-security concern and that the Trump administration made that clear by stripping away references to religion contained in the original version of the order.
Because the order serves a legitimate national security interest, the government argued, its challengers must show that enforcement of the travel ban would cause them to suffer specific and lasting harm.
The government says that the immigration groups have no way to show that, and that the individual plaintiffs — mostly people waiting on visas for family members — would be able to do so only once the ban takes effect.
“We ought to let the order take effect,” said Jeffrey Wall, an attorney last with Sullivan & Cromwell who has been tapped as principal deputy to Trump’s acting solicitor general. “We ought to see if these plaintiffs suffer any injury.”
At a press conference Wednesday outside the courthouse, attorneys for the challengers scoffed at this.
“I think it’s hard to argue that if you’re a father who hasn’t seen his minor children for months and months, and those children are in a dangerous situation without access to basic education or health care, you aren’t very immediately affected by the ban,” said Becca Heller, director and co-founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the groups that brought the suit against the order.
Chuang questioned whether the intent of Trump’s order can be weighed against anti-Muslim comments he made while running for president.
“When would the alleged taint from these statements end,” Chuang asked.
Jadwat told Chuang a court should toss those claims to the side only in the face of evidence that the president is acting on a credible threat. In any other situation, courts should read Trump’s past remarks and determine he is attempting to bring those to life, Jadwat said.
“It wouldn’t make much sense for a reasonable observer to look at this new order as having been born afresh without any of the history being taken into account,” Jadwat said.
Trump’s new order bars citizens of six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, dropping Iraq from the previous order. Though the order reinstates a temporary blanket ban on all refugees, it removes language from the original order that indefinitely banned Syrian refugees. The original order also called for prioritizing the admission of refugees who are religious minorities in their home countries, but that language is not included in the new order.