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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Trump's third attempt at Muslim country travel ban blocked by US judge

The White House slammed the decision as "dangerously flawed" and vowed to fight against it

People march as they participate in the '#NoMuslimBanEver' rally in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 2017.  The US Supreme Court is to decide whether the policy violates federal immigration law or the US Constitution’s prohibition on religious discrimination. AFP / Mark Ralston
People march as they participate in the '#NoMuslimBanEver' rally in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 2017. The US Supreme Court is to decide whether the policy violates federal immigration law or the US Constitution’s prohibition on religious discrimination. AFP / Mark Ralston

The third version of Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban was blocked by a federal judge on Tuesday night, hours before it was due to come into force, dealing a stunning blow to one of the President’s central policies.

It marks the latest legal victory for campaigners who argue the policy represents an unconstitutional bar to Muslims entering the country.

Government officials said the new version – which was designed to limit travel from North Korea, Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, as well as some government officials from Venezuela – was based on sound evidence of risk.

But US District Judge Derrick Watson sitting in Honolulu sided with the state of Hawaii, which questioned Mr Trump’s powers to alter criteria for entering the US.

He said the new policy "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Campaigners welcomed the decision. Steve Choi, New York Immigration Coalition executive director, said: "A federal judge just stopped the Trump administration with a temporary restraining order on Muslim Ban 3.0 - confirming yet again that it is un-American to discriminate against people based on race or religion."

He added "We will not make this country safer or greater by defying the founding principles on which it was built: liberty and justice for all."

However, the White House said the Department of Justice would “vigorously” fight the injunction.

Sarah Sanders, press secretary, said: “Today’s dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the President’s efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States.”

She said the policy was based on a comprehensive review which included assessing threat levels and the ability of countries to carry out immigration checks.

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Read more:

Trump’s refugee cap: Less than 17,500 from Middle East in 2018

Trump's new travel ban: Adds Chad, Venezuela, North Korea and removes Sudan

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A second judge sitting in Maryland was also considering a similar challenge.

The cases hinged on whether the new regulations stick to a classified Department of Homeland Security report setting out threats to the US or whether they amount to an arbitrary block on Muslims.

On Monday, US District Court Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland quizzed government lawyers on whether there were inconsistencies between the report and Mr Trump’s September proclamation setting out the new rules.

Hashim Mooppan, deputy assistant attorney general, declined to discuss the classified document but insisted the administration harboured no hostility towards Muslims. He cited Iraq and Sudan, which both have been dropped from earlier versions of the ban, as evidence.

“The proclamation dropped multiple Muslim countries and exempted multiple types of non-immigrant visas even from the Muslim countries,” he said. “That is strong evidence that this is not some kind of Muslim ban in disguise.”

The first version was introduced a week after Mr Trump took power. It banned entry of citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days. It also indefinitely halted arrivals of refugees from Syria.

It made good on Mr Trump’s campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the US until more stringent immigration procedures could be put in place to prevent terrorist attacks.

However, its introduction provoked mass protests around the country and at airports in particular, where travellers with visas and green cards were detained and in some cases sent back.

Several judges granted injunctions overturning all or part of the ban.

The administration unveiled a new version in early March, dropping Iraq from the list after complaints from leaders of a nation that is allied with the US in fighting ISIL.

It was blocked before it even came into force. Judges in Hawaii and Maryland cited Mr Trump’s campaign promises as evidence that the revised ban was again targeted at Muslims.

Version 3.0 attempted to add Venezuela and North Korea.

But opponents noted that 47 countries fell short - or were at risk of falling short - of meeting the US requirements for security and information sharing.

Eric Schneider, attorney general of New York, one of the state’s challenging the order, said it remained a “Muslim ban by another name”.

“This latest ban even applies to people who pose absolutely no plausible terrorist threat, such as young children and grandparents hoping to visit their relatives in the US,” he said.

In Maryland court on Monday, Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, described the restrictions as "a bigger, tougher version of the same ban" that Mr Chuang blocked previously.

“It excludes over 100 million people, and it actually makes it worse by extending the ban indefinitely,” he said.

The proposed new measures differed from country to country. They included an indefinite ban on visas for Syrian citizens while Iranians can visit as students or through cultural exchange programmes but cannot apply for immigrant, business or tourist visas.

A federal judge in Hawaii is weighing a similar motion, while challengers have also taken their case to courts in Washington DC and Seattle.

Becca Heller, of the International Refugee Assistance Programme, said the campaign against the new measures would continue whatever the outcome.

“The order themselves get longer and longer as increasing numbers of government lawyers attempt to hide their blatant discrimination in the language of national security,” she said, speaking before Tuesday's decision to block the ban.

Mana Kharrazzi, executive director of Iranian Alliances Across Borders, said American Muslims were tired of being pawns in political games.

“We’ve been facing an increased level of discrimination over the last year in schools, on subways, all across this country and I today very much am hoping that our country will recognise that we are not a threat, that we exist here, that we represent and embody everything that is supposed to make this country great,” she said, also speaking ahead of Tuesday's decision.