A federal judge in Maryland temporarily blocked an executive order signed by President Trump that would allow state and local governments to refuse to accept refugees.
Judge Peter J. Messitte of the Maryland District Court granted a motion from refugee groups to temporarily stay the order while their legal challenge against the president plays out.
"By giving States and Local Governments the power to veto where refugees may be resettled — in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary — Order 13888 does not appear to serve the overall public interest," Messitte, who was appointed by former President Clinton, wrote in his opinion.
"Granting the preliminary inductive relief Plaintiffs seek does," he continued. "Refugee resettlement activity should go forward as it developed for the almost 40 years before Executive Order 13888 was announced."
The lawsuit was brought by the refugee groups HIAS, Church World Service and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“This ruling shows the country how this administration was wrong to attempt a state-by-state refugee ban," Mark Hetfield, the president and CEO of HIAS, said in a statement. "Judge Messitte found it likely that the executive order is unlawful, and we are grateful for the clarity of this injunction."
"An overwhelming majority of governors and municipalities have already expressed their desire to continue welcoming refugees," Hetfield added. "To those few who have not, we say not only is it unkind and un-American to ban refugees from your states and towns, but it is unlawful."
Messitte said in his 31-page opinion that the groups have shown a likelihood that their legal challenge will succeed. In their lawsuit filed in November, the groups argued that the executive order undermines the existing legal framework for admitting and resettling refugees in the U.S.
"The President’s order and resulting agency actions threaten to deprive thousands of refugees of their best chance to successfully build a new life and to burden thousands of U.S. families who are waiting to reunite with their parents, children, and other relatives fleeing persecution," they wrote in their complaint.
The White House slammed the ruling as "preposterous" and "one more example of nationwide district court injunctions run amok."
"Another lawless district court has asserted its own preferred immigration policy in place of the laws of the United States – and, in so doing, robbed millions of American citizens of their voice and their say in a vital issue directly affecting their communities," said White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham in a statement. "President Trump rightly and justly recognized that your communities are unique, and while some cities have the resources to adequately support refugees and help them be successful, not all communities can sustain the substantial and costly burden."
She said the administration is "expeditiously reviewing all options to protect our communities and preserve the integrity of the refugee resettlement process."
Under the current laws, federal authorities administer refugee resettlement programs in coordination with state and local authorities. Messitte wrote that the executive order gives those authorities outsized authority in a federal program.
"Lest there be any doubt, 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 midst — flies in the face of clear Congressional intent, as expressed in the legislative history of the statute," he wrote.
Under Trump’s executive order, the State Department has to obtain written consent from state and local officials before moving forward with refugee resettlement in their jurisdictions.
Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) made his state the first in the country to opt out of accepting refugees.
The State Department had set a January 21 deadline for local officials to write into the resettlement program. Starting in June, refugees would only be resettled in areas where officials had provided written consent to accept them.