A group of Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants with roots in the U.S. who are threatened by the effects of President Donald Trump’s expansive travel ban are asking a federal judge to declare the executive order that gave rise to it unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal district court in Virginia, brands Trump’s executive directive a “Muslim exclusion order” ― a term that harkens back to a time the United States used to ban Chinese citizens from entering the country solely on the basis of their nationality.
Led by Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour, the 27 plaintiffs contend that the Muslim exclusion order represents “the fulfillment of President Trump’s longstanding promise and boasted intent to enact a federal policy that overtly discriminates against Muslims and officially broadcasts a message that the federal government disfavors the religion of Islam, preferring all other religions instead.”
This “stigma,” the lawsuit alleges, violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which forbids the government from exulting one belief system over others. The complaint also alleges that Trump’s restrictions on travel will directly affect the plaintiffs’ ability to go freely to their countries of origin and then return — a type of injury they say discriminates against them on the basis of their faith and where they’re from.
“We will use every non-violent means necessary to fight for the constitutional rights of Muslims and all Americans,” Sarsour, who is represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Huffington Post. “We will not sit back. We will not be silenced.”
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a former Michigan state legislator, attorneys, a religious leader, students, several members of CAIR in different parts of the country, and a number of unnamed nationals from countries included in the travel ban. Though they’re all lawfully in the country, they argue that they stand to suffer harm under the executive order if they step foot outside U.S. borders.
Thus far, no less than five different federal courts in all four corners of the country have ordered the federal government to not detain or deport individuals subject to Trump’s executive order; in one case out of Los Angeles, the Department of Homeland Security was directed to fly back an Iranian national who had arrived on a resident visa over the weekend but was deported anyway.
But those cases, which were filed on behalf of travelers facing emergency situations, are more limited in scope than the one CAIR filed. As styled, Monday’s lawsuit, which covers a number of plaintiffs living in the U.S. under different forms of lawful status, seeks broad relief that could potentially bring the executive order to a screeching halt, if not strike it down entirely.
For a moment on Monday, the future of this and other cases hung in the balance after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates announced she’d direct lawyers at the Department of Justice to not defend the travel ban in court.
But the uncertainty was short-lived as Trump relieved Yates of her duties hours later and named a new acting chief at DOJ who will continue to play defense in the ongoing litigation over the legality of the president’s haphazardly implemented executive order.
These political developments over the travel ban are sure to color the pending Senate confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump’s choice for attorney general. A vote on his nomination by the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for Tuesday.
Christopher Mathias contributed reporting.