A federal judge has blocked US President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing his new travel ban against a Syrian family looking to escape fighting in their native land by fleeing to Wisconsin.
A Syrian Muslim who fled to Wisconsin has been working since last year to win asylum for his wife and three-year-old daughter so they can leave Aleppo and join him in the US.
He filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in February alleging Mr Trump’s first travel ban had stopped the visa process for them.
US District Judge William Conley ruled that challenge moot after a federal judge in Washington state blocked the travel order.
The process restarted for the family and they are now preparing to travel to Jordan for visa interviews at the US embassy, the last step before US customs officials decide whether to issue them visas.
But the family does not have dates for the interviews yet and Mr Trump’s new travel ban goes into effect on March 16, stirring fears that the process could halt again before visas are issued, according to the Syrian man’s attorneys.
The man filed a new complaint on Friday afternoon alleging the new ban is just as problematic as the first, calling it anti-Muslim and alleging it violates his right to due process, equal protection and freedom of religion.
He asked Judge Conley to declare the ban unconstitutional on its face and block enforcement against his family.
It is unclear whether the new ban applies to asylum seekers such as the Syrian family. Government attorneys argued during a teleconference with Judge Conley on Friday that it does not, while the man’s attorneys maintain it does.
Judge Conley issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement against the family, saying the man seems to have a good chance of winning the case. The judge set a hearing for March 21.
The restraining order does not block the entire travel ban, it simply prevents Mr Trump’s administration from enforcing it against this specific family.
The US Justice Department is defending the ban. Spokeswoman Nicole Navas said agency attorneys were reviewing the Syrian man’s complaint and declined further comment.
Mr Trump issued an executive order in January banning travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria, from entering the United States. The order sparked numerous lawsuits, including the Syrian refugee’s initial federal complaint in Wisconsin. US District Judge James Robart in Washington state blocked the ban on February 3.
Mr Trump issued a new order on Monday that removed Iraq from the list of countries and temporarily shuts down the refugee programme.
Unlike the first order, the new ban will not affect current visa holders and removes language that would give priority to religious minorities. Hawaii filed a lawsuit challenging the new ban on Wednesday; other states with Democratic attorneys general plan to sue next week.
According to the Syrian man’s lawsuit, he fled his country to avoid near-certain death at the hands of two military factions, one a Sunni-aligned group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and one fighting in support of Assad.
The pro-Assad forces thought he was sympathetic to the other side and the anti-Assad army targeted him because he was a Sunni and travelled to pro-Assad areas to manage his family’s business.
Both sides tortured him and threatened to kill him, the lawsuit said. The pro-Assad forces also threatened to rape his wife.
He came to the United States in 2014 and was granted asylum last year. He then began filing petitions seeking asylum for his wife and daughter. He has filed all his court actions anonymously to protect his family.