A federal judge on Friday blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing his new travel ban against a Syrian family looking to escape their war-torn homeland by fleeing to Wisconsin.
The ruling likely is the first by a judge since Trump issued a revised travel ban on Monday, according to a spokesman for the Washington state attorney general, who has led states challenging the ban.
A Syrian Muslim man who was granted asylum and settled in Wisconsin has been working since last year to win US government approval for his wife and 3-year-old daughter to leave the devastated city of Aleppo and join him.
The man, who is not identified because of fears for his family’s safety, filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in February alleging Trump’s first travel ban had wrongly stopped the visa process for his family. US district judge Michael Conley set that challenge aside after a federal judge in Washington state blocked the entire Trump travel order.
After Trump signed a new executive order on Monday, the Syrian man filed a new complaint on Friday afternoon, alleging the order was still an anti-Muslim ban that violated his freedom of religion and right to due process. He asked Conley to block its enforcement against his family.
Judge Conley granted that request, saying there were daily threats to the Syrian man’s wife and child that could cause “irreparable harm”. He issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement against the family. The order does not block the entire travel ban. It simply prevents Trump’s administration from enforcing it against this family pending a 21 March hearing.
Advocates hailed the ruling as a sign Trump’s revised order could go the same way as the first, which a federal court thwarted with a nationwide injunction.
Margaret Huang, executive director Amnesty International USA, said in a statement on Friday night: “This order continues to tear families apart and cause needless pain and anxiety for thousands of people. It is the same hate and fear in different packaging.”
But the Wisconsin ruling is limited, meaning the broader challenges lodged in other federal courts, in the states of Hawaii and Washington, will ultimately decide whether Trump’s new order can be implemented on 16 March.
After the Trump ban was blocked the first time, the approval process restarted for the Syrian family and they are now preparing to travel to Jordan for visa interviews at the US embassy, the last step before customs officials decide whether to issue them visas.
But the family does not have dates for the interviews yet and Trump’s new travel ban goes into effect on 16 March, stirring fears the process could halt again before visas are issued, according to the Syrian man’s attorneys.
Government attorneys argued during a teleconference with Conley on Friday that the new ban may not apply to this family anyway, although they did not go into details. There are various exemptions and waivers in the new ban including some that give consular officers flexibility to decide cases. Conley acknowledged that the family’s situation was murky but still issued the order, saying the man seemed to have a good chance of winning the case.
The US Justice Department is defending the ban. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas said agency attorneys were reviewing the man’s complaint and declined further comment on it and Conley’s order.
Trump issued an executive order in January banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria, from entering the US. US district judge James Robart in Washington state blocked the entire order on 3 February.
The revised order issued on Monday removed Iraq from the list of countries and would temporarily shut down the refugee program. Unlike the first order, the new ban would not affect current visa holders and removes language that would give priority to religious minorities.
Hawaii filed a lawsuit challenging the new ban on Wednesday; other states with Democratic attorney generals plan to sue next week.
According to the Syrian man’s lawsuit, he fled his country to avoid near-certain death at the hands of two military factions, one a Sunni-aligned group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and another group fighting in support of Assad. The pro-Assad forces thought he was sympathetic to the other side and the anti-Assad army targeted him because he was a Sunni and traveled to pro-Assad areas to manage his family’s business.
Both sides tortured him and threatened to kill him, the lawsuit said. The pro-Assad forces also threatened to rape his wife. He came to the US in 2014 and was granted asylum last year. He then began filing petitions seeking asylum for his wife and daughter.