Trump Administration Hit With Twin Shots on Updated Travel Ban

MANHATTAN (CN) – Attorneys at Covington & Burling brought the first court challenges Tuesday to what they call Muslim Ban 3.0, the updated executive order that bars the citizens of various Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

Set to take effect Oct. 18, this third iteration of the travel ban indefinitely bans U.S. travel by citizens of Syria, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, Libya, Iran and North Korea. It also incorporates specific restrictions on travelers from Iraq and Venezuela.

Trump signed the first travel ban in January, just a week after his inauguration, unleashing chaos at the nation’s airports and sparking a flurry of legal challenges. Though the White House characterized the ban as necessary for national security, a federal judge who enjoined it found that the president’s anti-Islamic rhetoric on the campaign trail betrayed the ban’s discriminatory intent.

Trump’s addition of North Korea and Venezuela to the latest ban appears to be an effort to circumvent those legal challenges.

Covington & Burling filed the first court challenges to the updated ban this morning: one with a federal judge in Maryland, the other in Manhattan.

The Maryland case is led by the group Iranian Alliances Across Borders and six individuals, all of whom are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents with Iranian relatives whom the latest executive order will block from coming to the United States.

While the Maryland case raises constitutional objections, public records are at the heart of the case in New York, where Covington & Burling represents the Brennan Center for Justice.

A legal group out of the New York University School of Law, the Brennan Center says it is still waiting for word about a July request it filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The request concerns a worldwide review of visa-issuance and data-collection processes that several agencies purportedly conducted over the summer. Quoting the credit Trump gave to these studies in September for informing which countries made it onto Version 3 of the ban, the Brennan Center says such records should be made available to the public.

“We need more information on the president’s decision to blacklist certain countries,” the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel said in a statement. “Given his repeated insistence that he wants to ban Muslims from the United States, we cannot take his word that the most recent version of the ban is motivated by national security considerations rather than prejudice.”

Pairing its lawsuit with the release of a new report, the Brennan Center said its investigators found a discrepancy in the Trump administration’s claim that the ban is targeted toward countries with lax immigration vetting.

The Brennan Center found that Iraq had failed its review by State Department agencies, for example, but that immigrants from the country would only be “subject to additional scrutiny” rather than banned outright like immigrants from Iran and Syria.

Somalia also satisfied the State Department’s baseline requirements but was included in the travel ban anyway, according to the Brennan Center’s report.

Saying in a conference call that Trump’s third ban was “motivated by prejudice rather than facts,” Patel cited evidence that the Department of Homeland Security manipulated its reports to fit pre-existing political prejudices.

In addition to questioning what risk factors the government used in making its final determination, the Brennan Center questions why students were given lower risk profiles over tourists.

Shayan Modarres, legal counsel at the National Iranian American Council, called the inclusion of Venezuela and North Korea in the latest travel ban “window dressing.”

It is “racial and religious animus that motivates President Trump,” Modarres added.

According to the Brennan Center report, visas from Venezuela and North Korea are already very low, with only 109 visas from North Korean nationals last year.

Though the Supreme Court had been set to hear oral arguments on Trump’s second version of the travel ban this week, Trump’s issuance of the third update jettisoned that case from calendar.

“President Trump’s latest Muslim ban remains as unjust and unlawful as the prior versions,” Johnathan Smith, legal director of Muslim Advocates, said in a statement. “Banning people because of their religion or national origin doesn’t make our country safer; all it does is tear apart families and propagate bigotry and discrimination. Through these two legal filings today, we seek to hold this administration accountable and make clear that no one – including the president – is above the law. You shouldn’t have to file a lawsuit to see your fiance or grandmother, but that’s what we have to do so our plaintiffs can be reunited with their loved ones.”

A representative of the State Department declined to comment.

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