Michigan groups renew fight over Trump travel ban

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Yemeni-Americans and community members protest the latest version of the Muslim travel ban, saying their daily afternoon prayer in the street in front of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, October 27, 2017.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, advocacy groups and separated families are renewing a legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travelers from some countries with majority Muslim populations.

The amended complaint filed Thursday in Detroit’s U.S. District Court argues that the restrictions are unconstitutional and seeks a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement. The suit also claims the measure separates Muslim-Americans from relatives abroad as well as interferes with travel activities of some area nonprofit and business groups.

“Our nation was founded on the idea of religious freedom, which is a core constitutional right, said Nishchay Maskay, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case. “While the court allowed the ban to continue while it is being challenged, it did so based on preliminary evidence. We look forward to getting all the evidence and proving once and for all that this ban is unconstitutional religious discrimination.”

Reached Thursday night, U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Katie Rose Waldman said: "As a matter of policy, we don't comment on pending litigation."

Officials with the Department of State, which also is named in the litigation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Department of Justice representative could not be reached late Thursday. 

The ongoing lawsuit was filed in January 2017, after the government announced the first version of the ban.

The newest iteration had been fully in place since December, when Supreme Court justices stopped lower court rulings that found the policy out of bounds and blocked part of it from being enforced.

The measure applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim countries, blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

A sixth majority Muslim country, Chad, was removed from the list in April after improving "its identity-management and information sharing practices," Trump said in a proclamation.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the ban could continue while its legality is being challenged, a decision that prompted protests and condemnation from activists.

The move also ended the lawsuit sparked by the ACLU, Arab-American Civil Rights League and other groups on behalf of its members as well as others.

The amended complaint asserts the ban still affects the plaintiffs, including 
people such as Hend and Salim Alshawish, who have been unable to bring two of their children, Yemeni citizens, to the United States.  Fahmi Jahaf, a U.S. citizen, also has been waiting nearly eight years for authorities to approve his Yemeni wife’s visa so they can be reunited, attorneys wrote in the filing. 

According to their complaint, the ban defies Supreme Court requirements that measures to exclude people from the United States be grounded in national security concerns.

“In 2015, candidate Donald Trump called for ‘a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,’” said Rula Aoun, director of the ACRL.

“Three years and three executive orders later, he has remained remarkably consistent. The immigration policies of President Trump, like those of candidate Trump, are motivated by pure and simple religious discrimination, with no sound basis in law or national security.”

The administration has advocated the travel ban’s stated goals of preventing entry to the U.S. of people who cannot be adequately vetted, and inducing other countries to improve their security practices.

Authorities have pointed to the Chad decision to show that the restrictions are premised only on national security concerns.

In the June opinion upholding the ban, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said the policy has "a legitimate grounding in national security concerns," as well as several moderating features, including a waiver program that would allow some people from the affected countries to enter the country.

However, some civil liberties groups and immigration advocates have likened it to a 1944 Supreme Court decision that upheld an executive order requiring Americans of Japanese ancestry to be sent to detention camps.

“This administration has used every tool available to ensure that only certain people and only certain faiths are welcome in America,” Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, said Thursday. “We must likewise use every tool available, including the courts, to put an end to this religious bigotry.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.