Judge agrees to block Trump order on refugee resettlement

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — A federal judge agreed Wednesday to block the Trump administration from enforcing an executive order allowing state and local government officials to reject refugees from resettling in their jurisdictions.

U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland issued a preliminary injunction requested by three national refugee resettlement agencies that sued to challenge the executive order.

In his 31-page ruling, Messitte said the agencies are likely to succeed in showing that the executive order is unlawful because it gives state and local governments veto power over the resettlement of refugees.

President Donald Trump’s administration announced in November that resettlement agencies must get written consent from state and local officials in any jurisdiction where they want to help resettle refugees beyond June 2020.

Agency leaders say the order effectively gives governors and county leaders a veto in the resettlement process. The agencies also argue the order illegally conflicts with the 1980 Refugee Act.

Messitte concluded Trump's order doesn't appear to serve the “overall public interest.”

“Refugee resettlement activity should go forward as it developed for the almost 40 years before the (executive order) was announced,” he wrote.

Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and HIAS — a Jewish nonprofit — filed the lawsuit in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 21. They are three of the nine national organizations agencies that have agreements with the federal government to provide housing and other services for refugees.

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NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Immigration activists stage a protest against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Activists stage a rally against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in the Fourth terminal of JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Immigration activists stage a protest against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the new immigration ban issued by President Donald Trump at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport against Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017 in New York. US President Donald Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump boasted Saturday that his 'very strict' crackdown on Muslim immigration was working 'very nicely,' amid mounting resistance to the order which has been branded by many as blatantly discriminatory. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport against Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017 in New York. US President Donald Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump boasted Saturday that his 'very strict' crackdown on Muslim immigration was working 'very nicely,' amid mounting resistance to the order which has been branded by many as blatantly discriminatory. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca addresses a crowd during an anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A crowd gathers during an anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People gather during an anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protest outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against US President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against US President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hang a banner from a multi-level car park during a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People participate in a protest against Donald Trump's travel ban outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump signed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Hundreds of people gathered for a rally at the Chinatown Gate in Boston and marched to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Tori Furtado, from Boston, kneels down to write a sign that reads, 'Love has no borders,' in front of the Chinatown Gate, where hundreds gathered for a rally before marching to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Hundreds of people gathered for a rally at the Chinatown Gate in Boston and marched to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 28: Hundreds of people marched down Kneeland Street in Boston after gathering for a rally at the Chinatown Gate in Boston before walking to the State House in a demonstration against President Trump's new immigration order the day after it was issued, Jan. 28, 2017. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Nydia Velazquez seen as protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JANUARY 28: Protesters gather in a demonstration against President Trumps executive order barring immigrants and refugees from certain predominantly Muslim countries outside JFK airport terminal 4 on January 28, 2017 in New York City. PHOTOGRAPH BY Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Joel Sheakoski / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Protesters gather at JFK International Airport's Terminal 4 to demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order on January 28, 2017, in New York. Trump has signed a sweeping executive order to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Port Authority Police Department block an entrance as protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - JANUARY 28: Immigration activists stage a protest against President Donald Trump's 90-days ban of entry on 7 Muslim-majority countries in JFK airport in New York, U.S.A on January 28, 2017. (Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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Texas, which took in more refugees than any other state during the 2018 fiscal year, became the first state known to reject the resettlement of new refugees. Gov. Greg Abbott said in a letter released Jan. 10 that Texas “has been left by Congress to deal with disproportionate migration issues resulting from a broken federal immigration system.”

The head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, said the ruling for now puts on hold a policy that was causing “irreparable harm to refugee families and resettlement agency’s already. “ She added that it essentially re-opens the door for now to refugees being resettled in Texas.

“It’s a significant day in which the rule of law won,” O’Mara Vignarajah said.

At least 41 states have publicly agreed to accept refugees, but a governor's decision doesn't preclude local officials from refusing to give their consent. For instance, the Democratic mayor of Springfield, Massachusetts, has refused to give written consent for refugees to be resettled in the city.

Trump’s order says the agencies were not working closely enough with local officials on resettling refugees and his administration acted to respect communities that believe they do not have the jobs or other resources to be able to take in refugees. Refugees have the right to move anywhere in the U.S. after their initial resettlement, but at their own expense.

Before Trump signed the executive order, state and local officials were given a voice but not a veto in deciding where refugees would be resettled, resettlement agency lawyers said.

During a Jan. 8 hearing, the judge said the president's order essentially changed a federal law governing the resettlement of refugees.

Justice Department attorney Bradley Humphreys said the Refugee Act gives the president “ample authority” to make such a change.

“Why change it now?" Messitte asked. “Is it purely a political thing?”

Humphreys said the executive order is designed to enhance the involvement of state and local officials in the process of resettling refugees. But he insisted it doesn’t give them a veto over resettlement decisions.

The Trump administration has capped the number of refugee admissions at 18,000 for the current fiscal year. About 30,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. during the past fiscal year; between 150,000 and 200,000 remain in the pipeline for possible U.S. resettlement while they live abroad, according to Linda Evarts, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

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Associated Press reporter Julie Watson in contributed to this report from San Diego.

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