A federal judge in Seattle has lifted a ban on certain refugees with close U.S. ties that had been ordered by President Donald Trump's administration.
U.S. District Judge James Robart on December 23 ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Jewish Family Service (JFS) after they argued the policy prevented people from some Muslim-majority countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States.
The judge ordered the federal government to process certain refugee applications but said the ruling only applied to people who have a "bona fide relationship" to a person or entity in the United States, so-called "follow-to-join" refugees.
The most recent ban went into effect on October 24 after Trump issued an executive order resuming the refugee program but "with enhanced vetting capabilities," pending a 90-day security review, which was set to expire in late January.
Robart's ruling said the administration could carry out the 90-day security review but that it could not stop processing or admitting refugees who had the connections to the United States.
The ACLU and JFS argued in a court hearing on December 21 that the ban causes irreparable harm and puts some people at risk.
Lawyers for the U.S. government contended that the ban is necessary to protect national security.
The ban had applied to the spouses and minor children of refugees who have already settled in the United States. The order basically suspended the refugee program for people coming from 11 countries categorized as Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) nations.
The latest ruling does not affect new potential refugees from the 11 countries, unless they also have a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.
The administration has not listed the countries, but news media reported they were Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. All but North Korea and South Sudan have Muslim majorities.
State Department figures show that citizens of the 11 countries made up about 44 percent of the 54,000 refugees admitted into the United States in the most recent fiscal year.
Of those countries, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Iran by far had the most refugee arrivals in the United States. The data also showed that 2,600 Iranian refugees resettled in the United States last year, a majority of whom were Christian.
In his ruling, Robart cited former government officials as saying the ban on family members would “harm the United States' national security and foreign policy interests."
Robart said his order restores procedures for family members to what they were before the October ban, noting that they already included thorough vetting of individuals.
In a statement, Department of Justice spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said: "We disagree with the court's ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps."
The Trump administration has struggled to put immigration restrictions into place that can get court approval.