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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Trump's Refugee Order

Jan 16, 2020
Originally published on January 16, 2020 9:34 am
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State and local leaders cannot stop refugees from resettling in their communities - at least for now. President Trump wanted to give those officials the option to reject refugees, but a federal judge temporarily blocked his executive order yesterday. NPR's Joel Rose has more.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The Trump administration has already slashed the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. to the lowest level in decades. And last year, the administration went a step further, giving state and local leaders the power to block new refugees from settling in their backyards. But yesterday, a federal court said that was a step too far.

KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: We couldn't be more thrilled with Judge Messitte's ruling.

ROSE: Krish O'Mara Vignarajah is the head of Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services, one of the resettlement agencies that challenged Trump's executive order.

O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: It's a big day. And we are grateful the rule of law prevailed, ensuring the United States remains a place of welcome for the world's most vulnerable.

ROSE: U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte granted a preliminary injunction. In his opinion, Messitte wrote that the executive order appears to conflict with the 1980 Refugee Act. The judge wrote that the administration offered no rationale for, quote, "doing away entirely with a process that has worked so successfully for so long."

Last week, Texas became the first state to say it would reject refugees. Texas has accepted more refugees over the past decade than any other state, and refugee advocates there are believed the program will continue. Rebecca Lightsey is head of the nonprofit American Gateways in Austin.

REBECCA LIGHTSEY: We believe it's the right decision on so many levels - legally, from a humanitarian perspective, an economic perspective.

ROSE: Texas Governor Greg Abbott said last week that his state had done more than its share in helping refugees. He and other state and local leaders across the country have raised concerns about the costs to taxpayers, including education and health care. That's why County Commissioner Brian Bitner in North Dakota voted against allowing refugees.

BRIAN BITNER: I thought it would be irresponsible of me to give consent without having any kind of real information.

ROSE: Bitner represents Burleigh County, N.D. He got outvoted after a contentious public hearing. Now, with the judge's ruling, he wonders if the debate was worth it.

BITNER: I'm kind of disappointed that we apparently wasted a lot of good people's time talking about an issue that apparently is all for naught.

ROSE: In a statement, the White House press secretary called the judge's ruling preposterous and said the administration is reviewing all options to, quote, "protect our communities."

Joel Rose, NPR News.

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