The Trump administration asked the country's highest court on Monday to block a lower court ruling that would allow refugees with formal assurances from U.S. resettlement agencies to come to the United States.
In an emergency application filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department lobbed the latest salvo in an ongoing lawsuit that challenges a Trump-ordered 120-day ban on most refugees.
The Justice Department's high court filing Monday follows an appeals court ruling last week that would allow refugees to enter the United States if a resettlement agency in the U.S. had agreed to accept their case. The appellate ruling could take effect as soon as Tuesday and could apply to up to 24,000 refugees.
“Will will fight it,” responded Neal Katyal, one of the lawyers defending refugees and travelers blocked from coming to the U.S. by Trump's executive orders.
The Justice Department did not ask the court to immediately block a separate part of last Thursday's ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of legal U.S. residents should be exempted from Trump's ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.
The president originally called to block nearly all refugee arrivals with an executive order in January, followed by an amended replacement to that order in March.
'Disrupt the status quo'
In Monday's court filing, the department said the 9th Circuit's decision on the refugee ban “will disrupt the status quo and frustrate orderly implementation of the order's refugee provisions.”
The filing marked the latest twist in the ongoing legal fight over Trump's sweeping March 6 executive order that barred travelers from Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, a move Trump argued was needed to prevent terrorist attacks. The same order included the 120-day ban on refugees.
Lower courts blocked both provisions, but the Supreme Court in June allowed certain parts to stand provisionally. The justices said the bans could be applied only to people without a “bona fide” relationship to people or entities in the United States, prompting litigation over the meaning of that phrase.
Resettlement agencies argued that their commitment to provide services for specific refugees should count as a “bona fide” relationship.
9th Circuit ruling
The Trump administration said it should not, meaning such refugees would be barred.
But the 9th Circuit last week ruled that refugees a U.S. resettlement agency has committed to providing services for once they have arrived in the country should be exempt from Trump's order.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in October about whether Trump's travel ban discriminates against Muslims, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
By that point, the original 90-day travel ban will have lapsed and the 120-day refugee ban — with certain allowances by the Trump administration for special cases — will have just a few weeks to run.
As lower courts and the Supreme Court weighed in on the travel and refugee bans in recent months, the U.S. refugee program has lurched from an ambitious projection of 110,000 arrivals for the year, to just a few hundred arrivals a week.
With the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, just 51,726 refugees have come to the country since Oct. 1, 2016 hewing close to Trump's stated desire to cap arrivals at 50,000.
The administration is expected to announce in the coming weeks what the maximum number of refugee arrivals for the coming fiscal year will be.