By Asher Price
Making Texas the first state to throw its weight behind President Donald Trump's embattled travel ban, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday filed a brief of support with a federal appeals court saying the immigration order is lawful.
The travel ban was blocked last week by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but a judge on the appeals court has called for the wider court to review the decision.
Paxton's support comes even as the Trump administration weighs its next step: After first suggesting he would appeal the stay to the Supreme Court, Trump has held off as he considers issuing a new executive order or preparing for another hearing before the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit judges.
The order indefinitely prohibited Syrian refugees from entering the United States, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days. Those seven countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Attorneys general in at least 20 states, led by those in Washington and Minnesota, have filed briefs opposed to the possible reinstatement of the order.
The order's abrupt roll-out soon after the inauguration transformed major airports into protest zones. Trump, cheered by his supporters, has said the order was necessary to keep the country safe; its many critics said the order amounted to an unconstitutional Muslim ban, harms businesses, turns a cold shoulder to desperate refugees and makes America less safe by antagonizing hearts and minds abroad.
"The law makes it very clear that the president has discretion to protect the safety of the American people and our nation's institutions with respect to who can come into this country," Paxton said in announcing the filing of the amicus brief. "The safety of the American people and the security of our country are President Trump's major responsibilities under the law."
Attorneys general of Washington and Minnesota took the opposite tack in their challenge to Trump's order, citing Trump's own campaign claims that he wanted to bar Muslims from the country to say his order amounted to an unconstitutional religious test. The states,
joined by a raft of companies, said the order harmed individuals, businesses and universities in their states.
The judges said Justice Department lawyers presented no evidence that anyone from the seven countries on the banned list was responsible for a terrorist attack in the United States and that they didn't see "an urgent need" for the ban's reinstatement.
Paxton told the American-Statesman he was "surprised" by the 9th Circuit ruling because, he said, the judges had missed important parts of the law giving the president discretion on national security matters.
Asked about the wide range of opposition to the ban, Paxton said: "Our primary concern is the safety of our citizens" and that the law doesn't require the president to provide proof of a security threat.
He said it was wrong to say the ban is a religious test because many Muslim-majority countries weren't included in the order.
Paxton's brief didn't address the potential effect on Texas businesses or universities, as the 9th Circuit challenge did.
In late January, shortly after the order's signing, University of Texas President Gregory L. Fenves told students and faculty that the direct impact on members of the UT community "is unclear."
The note from Fenves said the university has 110 students, faculty members and scholars who are citizens of the seven affected countries.
"The talents that brought them to UT are deeply valued, and their perspectives represent an essential part of the university," the note said.
Texas Association of Business spokesman Robert Wood said his group hasn't taken a position on the travel ban. Some companies with an Austin presence have voiced opposition.
Before the judges' ruling last week, National Instruments CEO Alex Davern told the Statesman the company was working with employees affected by the executive order and was adjusting their work responsibilities so they wouldn't be traveling outside the United States.
"This travel ban didn't accomplish what it set out to do," said Austin immigration attorney Mehron P. Azarmehr, whose firm represents a variety of businesses. "Instead it's been a source of confusion, and led to losses of productivity, creating uncertainty in the business community."
Paxton's brief "doesn't really make sense," he said. "It's not a wise use of legal resources to support a ban, frankly, that was poorly drafted."
Azarmehr said the travel ban hampered the work of tech companies that have grown by "getting the best talent from all over the world."
"This runs counter to everything Austin's been doing in the last 20 years to become a technology hub," he said.
Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott in 2015 sued to block the arrival of refugees from Syria, claiming the new arrivals could include terrorists, but a federal judge in Dallas declined to halt their flow.
(c)2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas