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Muslim civil rights group challenges Trump travel ban

Matthew Barakat
Associated Press

Alexandria, Va. — A Muslim civil rights group has joined the legal battle to overturn President Donald Trump’s travel ban directed at seven Muslim-majority nations.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria challenging Trump’s executive order. The lawsuit, filed for a large group that includes Michigan residents, characterizes the ban as a first step in fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to impose “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until the government “can figure out what is going on.”

Trump’s order suspends immigration for those of the seven countries for 90 days. Trump has said the action is being falsely characterized as a “Muslim ban.”

At a news conference Monday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump is “doing exactly what he told the American people he would do.”

“The president will always put the safety and prosperity of our country first and foremost,” Spicer said.

In addition to the travel ban directed at the seven countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — the executive order also temporarily suspends admission of refugees, but makes an exception for religious persecution of those practicing a religion that makes them a minority in their home country.

In an interview Friday with Christian Broadcasting News, Trump said his intention was to give persecuted Christians priority treatment in the refugee program.

CAIR’s lawsuit says the result is an executive order that creates “a denominational preference against Islam as a religion,” and violates First Amendment protections against religious discrimination.

In the lawsuit, lawyers Lena Masri, Gadeir Abbas and Shereef Akeel write that Trump’s ban affects all Muslims, even those who are citizens because it imposes a “policy that overtly discriminates against Muslims and officially broadcasts a message that the federal government disfavors the religion of Islam.”

The filing indicates at least six of the plaintiffs have Michigan ties. They include Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan; Namira Islam, co-founder and executive director of the Muslim Anti‐Racism Collaborative; and former state representative Rashida Tlaib.

Three others are unnamed, fearing reprisals, Akeel said Monday night. One is an imam living in Oakland County who has ties to Syria and “will be prevented from returning to his home and to his congregation despite his lawful permanent resident status” if he leaves the U.S., the lawsuit asserts.

Two others are Muslims in Wayne County: a Yemeni with a student visa and a Syrian woman who sought asylum who could be denied lawful permanent residency and is “likely to be tortured or even executed” if forced to return to the Middle East, according to the complaint.

“This ban is broad in scope and at the end of the day, the centerpiece is the person’s faith,” Akeel, a Troy-based civil rights attorney, said after returning from Washington, D.C., on Monday. “Today it’s a Muslim, but if you open the door and you allow the government to be able to target one faith over another, it doesn’t stop another faith from being targeted in the future. ... It’s attacking the fundamental core of what separates America from the rest of the world.”

At a news conference Monday, Abbas noted that five federal judges across the country have already issued orders barring implementations of various parts of the ban.

“We hope to put an end to this once and for all,” he said.

Still, legal challenges to executive-branch actions done in the name of national security can be arduous battles: Six years after Abbas filed a constitutional challenge to the government’s no-fly list, the lawsuit is still unresolved, aside from some changes to the list.

CAIR’s lawsuit is the second filed at the Alexandria courthouse challenging the ban. A judge has already issued a restraining order in response to the first lawsuit, which focused primarily on lawful permanent residents affected by the ban. Administration officials have since said that lawful permanent residents, typically known as “green-card” holders, will routinely receive waivers from the ban.

On Monday, the lawyers in that case filed an amended lawsuit on behalf of their clients, including two Yemeni citizens who have lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. and were traveling to meet their father, a U.S. citizen living in Flint.

The two brothers, ages 21 and 19, were handcuffed after arriving at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia, denied admission and sent to Ethiopia, where they remain in limbo, according to the lawsuit.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, the lawyer representing the Yemeni brothers and other unidentified plaintiffs who might be facing similar difficulties, said Monday that government officials have taken some steps toward complying with the judge’s restraining order, by giving those denied entry a list of lawyers who are willing to represent them.

Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.