WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration is seeking to close a legal window opened for tens of thousands of refugees to enter the United States, appealing a federal judge’s order directly to the Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson had ordered the government to allow in refugees formally working with a resettlement agency in the United States. His order also vastly expanded the list of U.S. family relationships that refugees and visitors from six Muslim-majority countries can use to get into the country, including grandparents and grandchildren.
In its appeal Friday night, the Justice Department said Watson’s interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on what family relationships qualify refugees and visitors from the six Muslim-majority countries to enter the U.S. “empties the court’s decision of meaning, as it encompasses not just ‘close’ family members, but virtually all family members. Treating all of these relationships as ‘close familial relationship(s)’ reads the term ‘close’ out of the Court’s decision.”
Only the Supreme Court can decide these issues surrounding the travel ban, the Justice Department said. “Only this Court can definitively settle whether the government’s reasonable implementation is consistent with this Court’s stay,” it said.
On Saturday, the U.S. Justice Department asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to put Watson’s ruling on hold while the Supreme Court considers its appeal.
The long, tangled legal fight is expected to culminate with arguments before the nation’s high court in October.
Watson’s ruling could help more than 24,000 refugees already vetted and approved by the United States but barred by the 120-day freeze on refugee admissions, said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, a resettlement agency.
“Many of them had already sold all of their belongings to start their new lives in safety,” she said. “This decision gives back hope to so many who would otherwise be stranded indefinitely.”
Citing a need to review its vetting process to ensure national security, the administration capped refugee admissions at 50,000 for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, a ceiling it hit this week.