The Justice Department argues that the TRO should have been more focused so it affected only Trump’s attempt to halt issuance of visas in six majority-Muslim countries. | AP Images

Justice Department wants OK to proceed with refugee halt, lower refugee cap and policy reviews

The Trump administration is asking a federal judge in Hawaii to narrow the temporary restraining order he issued Wednesday blocking key parts of President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban directive.

The Justice Department filed a motion Friday with U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson arguing that the TRO should have been more focused so it affected only Trump’s attempt to halt issuance of visas in six majority-Muslim countries.

Instead, the judge’s wording swept in several other aspects of Trump’s order, including a suspension of refugee admissions from around the globe, a lowering of the cap on refugees for the current fiscal year as well as a series of studies Trump ordered of existing vetting procedures.

The Trump administration argued that Watson’s finding that Trump’s order targeted Muslims on the basis of their religion can only logically apply to the six-country visa suspension and not to the other provisions of the directive.

“In concluding that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their Establishment Clause claim, the Court focused on the six countries affected by Section 2(c),” Justice Department attorneys wrote. “That analysis can apply only to Section 2(c), as only Section 2(c) contains operative provisions regarding the six countries. By contrast, the refugee provisions contained in Section 6 of the Executive Order do not target any countries at all: The 120-day suspension of [the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program] and the 50,000 refugee cap both apply on a global basis to all refugees, regardless of country of nationality.”

The Justice Department motion also notes that a federal judge in Maryland considering a request to block the entirety of Trump’s March 6 revised travel ban order blocked only the six-country visa ban. U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Chuang said the plaintiffs in that case “did not sufficiently develop [their] argument to warrant an injunction on” the refugee provisions, although he did not rule out blocking them later.

The Trump administration on Friday appealed the Maryland-based judge’s order to the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, but notably did not appeal the order issued from Hawaii, apparently having decided to first ask the judge there to rein in his injunction.

The current sequence of events could also give the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals the chance to weigh in on the revised travel ban order before the issue is addressed again by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, which last month rejected Trump’s efforts to reinstate his first travel ban order.

A lawyer for Hawaii declined to comment on the federal government’s latest motion, but the feds’ filing says the state disagrees with it and believes “it will unduly delay resolution of this case.” A formal response from the state is expected Saturday.