Lawsuit Argues Trump Muslim Ban Unlawfully Targets U.S. Residents Seeking Citizenship and Immigration Status

February 2, 2017

SEATTLE — Civil and immigrant rights groups asked a federal court Wednesday night to lift the unconstitutional ban blocking Muslim immigrants lawfully living in the United States from becoming U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and asylees, among other things.

The class action lawsuit challenges provisions of President Trump’s January 27 executive order suspending the issuance of visas and other immigration statuses to nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, all of which are majority Muslim countries.

The case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates in Southern California and Washington State, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the National Lawyers Guild, the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, and Perkins Coie LLP.

Immigration attorneys have learned from leaked documents that the order is being applied to immigrants already lawfully residing within the U.S. who have pending applications for asylum, lawful permanent residence, and other immigration benefits, affecting tens of thousands of immigrants residing legally in the U.S.

Based on the new guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, the government has suspended action on all pending immigration applications for individuals from the seven countries identified in the executive order for 90 days.

The lawsuit also argues that the government’s “extreme vetting” of people applying for citizenship and permanent residency under the executive order and an existing program known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) violates federal laws and due process protections. The program is designed to delay and deny citizenship and permanent residency to Muslim immigrants and immigrants from Muslim majority countries, despite their eligibility under the law.

The plaintiffs are Abdiqafar Wagafe and Mehdi Ostadhassan, who are practicing Muslims and long-time U.S. residents. Like many seeking naturalization, green cards, visas, or asylum, they have been subjected to the unconstitutional executive order and an unlawful vetting program that bars them from obtaining the citizenship and immigration status they seek.

“This ban seeks to shut me out of the United States simply because of my religion and my nationality, but my life and my future is here,” said Ostadhassan, an engineering professor at the University of North Dakota who has been living in the U.S. since 2009 and has an American wife and son. “This ban goes against everything I have known the United States to stand for. Welcoming immigrants is part of the American tradition. I have experienced this myself." 

Ostadhassan applied for his green card in 2014 and has been left waiting ever since.

“By freezing Muslim immigrants out of the ability to become U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, the president’s unconstitutional ban now takes aim at the very system that has made the United States a pluralistic nation,” said Jennie Pasquarella, immigrants' rights director for the ACLU of California and senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.

“The halt to the processing of applications has caused fear and anxiety to thousands of noncitizens who legally are entitled to benefits. This decision is irrational and illegal,” said Stacy Tolchin, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles who represents many Muslim clients.

“Applying the executive order to residents of the United States defies the plain language of the statute the president purports to rely on,” said Matt Adams, legal director for Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Moreover, any program targeting Muslims violates basic constitutional protections.”

“These xenophobic policies do not make us safer,” said Trina Realmuto, litigation director for the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. “Instead, they undermine American values.”

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, the national ACLU, the ACLU of Washington, and Perkins Coie LLP. 

The complaint is at: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/17_fac.pdf

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