Legal Briefs

International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump

Since January 27, 2017, the federal government has endeavored to ban the entry of all nationals of at least six African and Middle Eastern countries for 90 days. The issue in this appeal is whether the district court erred in issuing a preliminary injunction based, in part, on its findings that plaintiffs were likely to succeed in proving that aspects of the order violated the Establishment Clause and the Immigration Nationality Act and that an injunction would not harm the public interest. Cato filed this brief to provide evidence to inform the court’s review.

The facts clearly show that a series of false premises underlie the government’s justifications. It claims to have selected these six countries to study whether they may not be providing sufficient information to adjudicate visa applications. Yet under the law, the government has no obligation to gather any information to process applications. Visa applicants bear the burden of proof. If the applicants cannot prove their eligibility, they are denied, and the government’s own data demonstrate that consular officers have rigorously enforced this burden of proof and responded appropriately to the changing circumstances within these countries on an individualized basis.

Even if the government had such an obligation, it wrongly equates “nationality” with “country.” Millions of people who hold the legal designation of “national” have resided for years outside of these countries. Many have never had any meaningful relationship to their countries of nationality. Indeed, in at least two of these countries, individuals may be nationals without ever having been in the country at all.

The government purports to select these specific countries because they are either state sponsors of terrorism or countries in a state of civil war involving Foreign Terrorist Organizations—again wrongly equating nationalities and countries. Over the last 40 years, terrorists who were nationals of countries without these characteristics were 214 times more deadly to U.S. residents than those with them. While the future need not replicate the past, the government itself has supplied only historical evidence to supports its conclusions. This disconnect between threat level and selection criteria results in the selection of six countries whose nationals have never carried out a deadly attack in the last four decades.

The publicly-available evidence strongly suggests that the ban is not based on a rigorous national security analysis. Moreover, by the time the court will hear this case, the 90 days that the government initially claimed it needed to study the issue will have expired.

Finally, Congress has banned discrimination in immigrant visa issuance based on nationality. While the order itself claims to ban “entry,” the ban is clear that it will allow nationals from the designated countries who already have visas to enter, while it will discriminate against those without visas if they apply, solely by virtue of their nationality. Because the ban bars nationals without regard to their relationship to these countries, it is by its own terms a ban based on discriminating against persons with specific nationalities, not national security.

Cato filed a similar brief in the related Ninth Circuit case, Hawaii v. Trump (here).

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US LLP served as counsel to the Cato Institute. The attorneys on the briefs were Daniel Braun, Brent Wible (in the Ninth Circuit), David Livshiz, Peter Jaffe, Lauren Kaplin, and Karen Wiswall.

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