Hawaii federal judge extends order blocking Trump travel ban

Attorney General Doug Chin's response to travel ban injunction on Sunrise
Published: Mar. 21, 2017 at 2:37 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 29, 2017 at 7:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Hawaii federal judge extended the state's block on President Trump's revised travel ban Wednesday, issuing a preliminary injunction that will keep the executive order shelved while its fate is being decided by the courts.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson first granted the state's request for a TRO on the ban two weeks ago, preventing the federal government from suspending new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries and freezing the nation's refugee program.

The preliminary injunction is effective nationwide.

Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin said the order is an "important affirmation of the values of religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution's First Amendment."

He added, in a statement, "With a preliminary injunction in place, people in Hawaii with family in the six affected Muslim-majority countries – as well as Hawaii students, travelers, and refugees across the world – face less uncertainty. While we understand that the president may appeal, we believe the court's well-reasoned decision will be affirmed."

In court on Wednesday, Chin argued that the travel ban remains a "threat to our economy" because of it's potentially negative impact on tourism, the state's primary economic driver.

When the administration is "disfavoring one religion through its pre-textual policy, it's wrong," he said. "There's a big neon sign that says 'Muslim ban,' and no one in the government has bothered to turn off that sign."

During the hearing, attorneys for the state also told Watson that comments made by Trump on the day of Watson's previous ruling, in which the president called the revised travel ban a "watered down" version of the order, served to strengthen their stance.

"If (the state's) position was strong two weeks ago, it is stronger today," said Chin, who added that President Trump's "plainly worded statements betray the executive order's stated purpose.

Chin later read aloud for the court a series of the president's previous quotes, dating back to the campaign trail, that were critical of the Muslim faith or Muslim refugees.

"Even devoting a minute to stringing these together really drives the point home," he said.

The U.S. Justice Department, meanwhile, focused its arguments on the travel ban's minimal impact in Hawaii. Lawyers referenced the state's small refugee population, saying that if Hawaii isn't harmed by the order, it has no standing to sue.

"In fiscal year 2015, zero refugees were resettled in Hawaii," said Chad Readler, an assistant sttorney General for the department's Civil Division. "Since, three refugees have resettled in the state, and they were from Burma, not anywhere on the travel ban."

Watson was critical of the argument, asking Justice Department lawyers whether the hearing was a "mathematical exercise."

"Evidence you submitted shows 20 refugees resettled in Hawaii between 2010 (and now)," Judge Watson said. "Is 20 not enough, but 25 might be? What case law am I supposed to use to show that's insufficient without standing?"

In the end, the court ruled that the state was likely to suffer irreparable injury if the injunction was not granted.

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