A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Trump administration executive order that gives state and local officials discretion on whether or not refugees would be allowed to resettle in their jurisdictions.
Wednesday’s preliminary injunction, issued by U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland, comes after President Donald Trump signed the order in September requiring resettlement agencies to obtain written consent from states in which they plan to live. Two months later, three faith-based resettlement agencies filed a federal complaint challenging the administration’s move.
Prior to the order, refugees were allowed to live wherever they wished in the United States. However, the judge’s ruling temporarily suspends the requirement that resettlement agencies include state and local letters of consent in their proposals for federal funding ahead of the Jan. 21 submission deadline.
“We’re grateful to Judge Messitte for upholding the rule of law and ensuring that the United States remains a place of welcome for the world’s most vulnerable,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit.
“We have been successfully collaborating with communities and federal, state, and local governments for decades, and this ruling allows us to seamlessly continue that life-saving work.”
The Miami Herald reached out Wednesday to the defendants of the lawsuit — the Department of Health of Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security and the president’s office — but did not receive an immediate response.
The president’s executive order would not only bar refugees from living in certain areas, but would ultimately prevent refugees from being reunited with their U.S.-based families depending on where they live. The order would also prohibit communities from welcoming refugees, even if they have longstanding and successful resettlement programs.
The preliminary injunction comes five days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rejected the resettling of new refugees, making him the first governor in the country to do so. So far, 42 states have consented to allowing refugees to reside in their jurisdictions.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — along with the governors of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Hawaii — has yet to publicly announce whether he would allow refugees to resettle in Florida. DeSantis’ office said he was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
According to State Department data, Florida welcomed about 624 refugees in 2019, 2,309 in 2015 and 4,364 in 2010.
“Florida has long been a leader in showing hospitality to refugee and immigrant communities and will continue to be a destination for those seeking a safe and welcoming home where they can rebuild their lives,” said J.D. McCrary, executive director of the International Rescue Committee in Georgia and Florida, a nonprofit that helps resettle refugees in the region.
“Just five years ago, Florida was fifth in the country for refugee resettlement. Now Florida is in the middle of the pack,” he added. “That’s a big drop, and the numbers will continue to decline here just like for the rest of the country.”
In September, the president announced that the number of refugees for fiscal year 2020 will be capped at 18,000 — the lowest cap in the refugee program’s 40-year history.
Last year’s cap was 30,000. In 2018 it was 45,000 and before that, under President Barack Obama, it was 110,000.