Federal Court Grants Injunction in Suit to Stop Trump Administration from Separating Refugees from Their Families

News Release: Saturday, December 23, 2017

SEATTLE — The U.S. District Court in Seattle has granted a nationwide injunction in response to the ACLU of Washington’s motion for a Preliminary Injunction on behalf of a refugee living in Washington state who wants to be reunited with his wife and children. The judge’s order in the case Doe v. Trump enjoins the Trump Administration from enforcing a policy which would indefinitely prevent children and spouses from any country from being allowed to join refugees already admitted to the U.S.

“I am very happy that the judge recognized my right to have my family join me here in the United States, and I hope that they can come here as soon as possible,” said plaintiff Joseph Doe.

“We are hopeful that Joseph Doe — who has not yet had the opportunity to celebrate a single birthday with his younger son in person — will soon have the opportunity to hold his children, hug his wife in the very near future, and be together again as a family for the first time in four years,” said Lisa Nowlin, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Washington.

While the administration had cited grounds of national security for its policy, the Court found that the government did not point to any specific national security threat that justified the suspension of admitting refugees with family members in the U.S.

“Arbitrary policies requiring special memos on preschool children like Joseph Doe’s four- and five-year-old sons do not make our nation safer. They are a waste of resources. Joseph’s children have already been under screening by the government for almost half of their young lives, and Joseph has a right to be reunited with them,” said Tana Lin, ACLU of Washington cooperating attorney with the firm Keller Rohrback L.L.P.

Plaintiff Joseph Doe is a Somali national and legal permanent resident who is married and has three children. When he was a child, he and his family fled Somalia’s violent civil war to escape persecution and the risk of being killed because of their clan membership. While trying to reach safety, they spent weeks in the forest without food, and fighters from one of the warring factions found them and raped his older sister in front of him and his family. She was pregnant and bled to death from the assault. Eventually, Doe and his surviving family members made it to Kenya, where he spent nearly 22 years living in refugee camps.

Doe finally arrived in the U.S. as a refugee in January 2014 but had to leave his wife and children in Kenya—because his application was initiated when he was still a child. He filed a petition for them to join him after he arrived here but has now been separated from his family for almost four years. His family has already gone through exhaustive medical and security screening by the U.S government but they have been living in limbo since Trump’s first Executive Order on Immigration was issued in January 2017.

While Doe, now a legal permanent resident, supports his family through his full-time job at a warehouse, the continued separation has caused both him and his family tremendous distress.  He regularly talks to his family on the phone.  His youngest son, now four years old, constantly cries for him, asking, “Where are you? Why can’t you come for us?”

“The Administration’s policy is ripping apart families and heartlessly keeping refugees who have survived traumatic situations from reuniting with loved ones,” said Enoka Herat, ACLU of Washington Police Practices and Immigrant Rights Counsel.

Under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA), which is a federal statute created by Congress, people admitted to the U.S. as refugees have a right to be reunited with their spouses and children as long as they satisfy the government’s rigorous vetting process, which often takes two years to complete.

On October 24, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order in which he proclaimed that “Presidential action to suspend the entry of refugees under the USRAP is not needed at this time to protect the security and interests of the United States and its people.” (USRAP is the United States Refugee Admissions Program.) But an October 23, 2017 memorandum from the heads of three administrative agencies made clear the administration intends to continue its illegal ban: it announced an indefinite suspension on the admission of refugees’ family members who are entitled to admission under the INA.

“The government’s actions are but the latest installment in a series of executive orders that courts across the country have repeatedly condemned for targeting Muslim immigrants and refugees,” said Alison Gaffney, ACLU of Washington cooperating attorney with the firm Keller Rohrback L.L.P.

Doe v. Trump was filed on February 7, 2017, in federal court in the Western District of Washington.  Plaintiffs include a number of people whose lives have been directly impacted by the Muslim Ban and two organizations: the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Washington, whose work has been greatly impacted by the Order’s violation of the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause; and the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, whose efforts to fulfill its religious mission of serving refugees have been severely harmed by the ban.

The ACLU-WA motion challenges different aspects of the Muslim Ban than those that are under challenge in litigation filed by various attorneys general in the District Court of Hawaii and by the ACLU in Maryland.

The ACLU-WA motion was heard along with motions in a consolidated case challenging the Muslim ban brought by the International Refugee Assistance Project, the National Immigration Law Center, HIAS, and others on behalf of Jewish Family Service of Seattle (JFS) and other plaintiffs. The JFS motion challenged the suspension of admission of principal refugees from 11 countries on the Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) list, nine of which are predominantly Muslim. The ACLU-WA and JFS joined each other’s motions.

Representing the Plaintiffs are ACLU-WA Legal Director Emily Chiang and staff attorney Lisa Nowlin; and ACLU-WA cooperating attorneys Lynn Lincoln Sarko, Tana Lin, Amy Williams-Derry, Derek Loeser, Alison Gaffney, Laurie Ashton, and Alison Chase of Keller Rohrback L.L.P.

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