Creating a Movement: Our Response to the Muslim Ban

On January 27, 2017, the Trump administration signed an unprecedented executive order temporarily freezing the refugee program and banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States into action. Amidst global disbelief, uncertainty, and fear, the staff and volunteers at the International Refugee Assistance Project immediately sprung into action.

The result: a historic movement that energized thousands around the world to stand up for refugees and established a blueprint for how to effectively and strategically fight back against unchecked executive power.

The Muslim ban was only the first of a string of policies aimed at keeping refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants out of the country. Together, we continue to utilize every tool — through the courts, through civic action and protest, through our contacts with allies on both sides of the aisle, through the media, and through a self-organized volunteer network — to work tirelessly to fight the Trump administration’s entry bans.

Grassroots Legal Mobilization: Lawyers Flood U.S. Airports in Defense of Immigrants’ Rights

On January 25, two days prior to the signing of the damaging executive order and in anticipation of likely chaos at all points of entry to the United States, we sent out an urgent call to action to all of our affiliated lawyers and their networks. We organized a task force of pro bono lawyers at numerous international airports across the country to defend the rights of incoming refugees and immigrants. Over 1,600 volunteers responded to our call within less than 24 hours. When the order went into effect in the late afternoon on Friday, January 27, we were ready.

Read about the efforts in The New York Times and New York Magazine.

Through this action, IRAP was able to:

  • Seize control of the international narrative by demonstrating the chaos and discrimination behind the executive order and its implementation (It was this narrative that carried the news for three full days following the order, leading to Congressional protests and hearings and an internal investigation of the Department of Homeland Security.);
  • Start a movement by mobilizing lawyers and volunteers at airports, who became self-organizing, with regional networks around the country that provide individual legal representation and advocate with airlines and local governments.

Litigation: Fighting the Muslim Ban in the Courts

In response to the original executive order, IRAP became involved in two lawsuits, IRAP v. Trump and Darweesh v. Trump, to challenge the Muslim ban and protect the rights of our clients and other refugees and immigrants, while simultaneously proving that executive power can be checked.

Learn more about these lawsuits and our wider litigation efforts:

  • Darweesh v. Trump: Preventing Mass Detention and Deportation

In January 2017, we filed this first-in-the-nation challenge to President Trump’s first Executive Order banning entry of nationals from certain Muslim-majority countries (EO #13,769). We filed the emergency lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqi IRAP clients who were detained at JFK airport and threatened with deportation because the EO was issued while they were en route to the United States.

That same day, the court blocked deportations under the EO, leading to the release of approximately 2,000 people. In settling the case, the government agreed to reach out to everyone who was denied entry or deported under the EO and who had not yet reapplied for a visa or returned to the United States to inform them of their right to reapply for a visa.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP were co-counsel in this litigation.

View the complaint: Darweesh v Trump

View the press release:

View the New York Times story:

  • IRAP v. Trump

IRAP v. Trump was the first lawsuit challenging the executive order in its entirety. The complaint states that the order is equivalent to a Muslim ban and thus unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantees of equal treatment under the law. The lawsuit was filed by IRAP, HIAS, and individual plaintiffs. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center are acting as co-counsel.

After oral arguments at the Maryland District Court, in response to an amended complaint filed by IRAP, the ACLU, and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Judge Theodore Chuang ruled in favor of a partial preliminary injunction, providing relief to thousands who would’ve been affected by these sweeping, discriminatory travel restrictions. On February 15, 2018, the Fourth Circuit en banc affirmed the injunction.

However, on June 26, 2018, the Supreme Court in Trump v. Hawai’i, which also challenged the new Proclamation, allowed the Proclamation to take effect and found that plaintiffs are not entitled to preliminary relief. Following that decision, IRAP v. Trump was remanded to the district court.

View the complaint: IRAP_v_Trump_Complaint

View the press release: GROUPS FILE NEW CHALLENGE TO TRUMP MUSLIM BAN Press Release Feb 7 2017

Ongoing Policy Advocacy in Light of the Muslim Ban

IRAP continues to work with our congressional allies, faith-based and other communities, and veterans to ensure that vulnerable refugees have legal pathways to safety. In the United States, we are:

  • Supporting congressional efforts to oppose all iterations of the Muslim ban;
  • Advocating for transparency and accountability in the visa waiver process; and
  • Highlighting the negative impact of the Muslim ban on refugee resettlement, especially for highly vulnerable groups, including Iraqis with close U.S. affiliations, LGBTI individuals, and children with medical emergencies.

In addition to our work in the United States, we are proactively reaching out to other governments and international partners to explore alternative solutions for our clients in other safe, third countries.

We Will Never Back Down: Next Steps

We will continue our work to provide safe passage for refugees and to fight back against all iterations of the Muslim ban and similar entry bans, by:

  • Continuing to challenge unconstitutional and discriminatory policies toward refugees and asylum seekers in court;
  • Expanding our policy advocacy and communications work to bring non-traditional voices to the forefront of the fight for refugee rights; and
  • Identifying and utilizing  complementary legal pathways to safety in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere, for persecuted individuals for whom existing resettlement programs may no longer be an option.
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