By Bob Egelko
Three days before President Trump's new travel ban is due to take effect, California joined a legal challenge by Washington and four other states Monday arguing that the proposed halt on admission of immigrants and refugees is a thinly disguised anti-Muslim decree that would damage the states' universities, hospitals and economies.
Like Trump's first order, which was blocked by the courts, the revised order is "an attack on people -- women and children, professors and business colleagues, seniors and civic leaders -- based on their religion and national origin," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement accompanying the filing in a federal court in Seattle.
Washington state, the lead plaintiff, asked U.S. District Judge James Robart to hold a hearing Tuesday on its request to extend his previous injunction to Trump's new order temporarily blocking people from six mostly Muslim nations and all refugees. But Robart said he would hear arguments no earlier than Wednesday, when other federal judges have scheduled hearings on separate lawsuits in Maryland and Hawaii.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration filed its first legal defense of the new executive order, telling a judge in Hawaii that it was issued under the president's "broad constitutional authority over foreign affairs and national security" and bars entry "on the basis of risk of terrorism, not religion."
The states' filing Monday detailed the harm they said they would suffer from the travel ban.
California's lawyers said the state, whose population is 27 percent foreign-born, is home to nearly 700 students from the six targeted countries at its state universities and would face the loss of prospective students, scholars and physicians from abroad, as well as millions in tax revenue from travelers.
The proposed order "undermines California's commitment to diversity and nondiscrimination," the filing said.
The order, which Trump issued March 6, would prohibit U.S. entry for 90 days by anyone from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In the meantime, the U.S. would determine whether heightened screening is needed for people from those nations trying to enter this country.
Trump's short-lived Jan. 27 travel ban also applied to entrants from Iraq, which was dropped from the new order at the urging of military officials working with Iraqis to combat Islamic State militants. U.S. officials also said Iraq had agreed to implement new measures to keep people "with criminal or terroristic intent from reaching the United States."
The new order, like the first one, would also halt for 120 days all U.S. admission of refugees, who have fled violence or persecution in their homelands. Unlike the earlier version, the March 6 order explicitly exempts from the ban natives of the targeted countries who have gained legal U.S. residency or hold valid U.S. visas.
Rulings by Robart and a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco held that the Jan. 27 order was likely to violate the constitutional rights of immigrants and refugees, by excluding them without notice or hearings, and that it raised serious questions of possible religious discrimination.
Lawyers for the states suing in Seattle -- Washington, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland -- argued Monday that the new presidential order was no different.
Despite Trump's claim that the revisions would satisfy the courts' previous objections, the states' lawyers noted that presidential adviser Stephen Miller said Feb. 21 that the new order would have "mostly minor technical differences" but "the same basic policy outcome" as the first order. Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, said Feb. 27 that the new order "attempts to address the courts' concerns" but to "maintain the way that we did it the first time."
And that goal, the states contended, is to "disfavor Islam and favor Christianity."
They cited Trump's campaign pledge to ban all Muslim immigration, his claim at a Feb. 16 news conference that he had acted to "keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the country," and the Jan. 28 statement by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump adviser, that the president had asked him to find a legal way to draft a "Muslim ban."
In the Hawaii filing defending Trump's order, Justice Department lawyers described the ban as a brief time-out for review of U.S. terrorist screening measures. It said Trump's order was legal under a 1952 statute allowing the president to exclude any "class of aliens" who might harm the national interest.
Any alleged violations of the rights of individuals were cured by the new order's exemptions for legal residents and visa-holders, the only noncitizens who have constitutional rights, government lawyers said. Claims of harm to universities, state hospitals or residents seeking entry of a relative abroad are merely "speculative," the lawyers said, because anyone banned by the order could ask a consular official for a waiver.
They also said the executive order "does not convey any religious message" and would affect nations which collectively are home to less than 9 percent of the world's Muslim population.
"Informal statements by the president or his surrogates" -- before or after the election -- "that do not directly concern the order are irrelevant," the government lawyers said.
In another action Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and 36 colleagues introduced a bill that would negate Trump's order, legislation that has little prospect of success in the Republican-controlled Congress, let alone of winning the president's signature.
"These divisive policies alienate our allies in the Muslim world and fuel anti-American sentiment by sending a message that the United States is out to punish one religion," Feinstein said in a statement.
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