US judge extends order blocking Trump travel ban

The judge who halted President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on refugees and arrivals from six mainly Muslim countries has extended his order, dealing another blow to the White House.

After a hearing lasting several hours, US District Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii said Wednesday he had turned his original temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction.

Such an injunction generally has no set expiration date, said Hawaii state Attorney General Doug Chin, meaning Trump will be barred from enforcing the ban while it is contested in court.

The US Justice Department is expected to appeal to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hawaii was the first of several US states to sue over the amended ban.

Trump has said his proposed travel ban is needed to preserve US national security and keep out terrorists intent on doing harm to Americans. The government had asked Watson to limit his first ruling to just the part of the order involving the six Muslim countries — Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen, the New York Times reported.

Justice Department attorney Chad Readler argued before the judge that the refugee resettlement restriction had no effect on far-flung Hawaii, the paper said.

But Watson rejected the argument. He said 20 refugees had been accepted in Hawaii since 2010, the Times said.

Watson’s first order suspending enforcement of Trump’s amended ban was issued March 15 — a day before it was to go into effect.

Trump’s first ban and the revised one have both been criticized as amounting to a ban on entry of Muslims into the US. Hawaii’s attorney general Chin praised the new court ruling.

“With a preliminary injunction in place, people in Hawaii with family in the six affected Muslim-majority countries – as well as Hawaii students, travelers, and refugees across the world – face less uncertainty,” he said.

“While we understand that the president may appeal, we believe the court’s well reasoned decision will be affirmed,” he added in a statement.

In his first order, Watson ruled it was plausible “to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam” given their Muslim populations ranging from 90.7 percent to 99.8 percent.

If the Justice Department appeals the latest ruling it will be heard in the same San Francisco-based court that upheld a halt to Trump’s first travel ban in February after a judge in Seattle ruled against it.

The ban aims to close US borders to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, and all refugees for at least 120 days. Iraq was included in the original ban but then was removed in the revision.

The White House said the six countries were targeted because their screening and information capabilities could not meet US security requirements.

The Trump administration’s wide-ranging initial travel restrictions imposed on January 27 were slapped down by the federal courts, after sparking a legal, political and logistical furor.

The first version of Trump’s order triggered protests at home and abroad as well as chaos at US airports as people were detained upon arrival and either held for hours or sent back to where they came from.

Trump’s revised ban signed on March 6 had a reduced scope, exempting permanent US residents and valid visa holders — an effort by the administration to help it pass legal muster.