The ACLU-WA team gathered after the ruling on December 23, 2017. From left to right: Lisa Nowlin, Tana Lin, and Alison Gaffney. Photo courtesy of ACLU-WA

The ACLU-WA team gathered after the ruling on December 23, 2017. From left to right: Lisa Nowlin, Tana Lin, and Alison Gaffney. Photo courtesy of ACLU-WA

Ruling in Seattle Is Likely to Reunite Many Refugee Families

The U.S. District Court decision brings back a process that has helped approximately 2,500 families each year.

Late last week, the U.S District Court in Seattle struck down a federal immigration policy that prevented family members in other countries from joining their relatives with refugee status in the U.S. And the bureaucratic machinery is reportedly in motion again as the federal government resumed processing follow-to-join petitions that could reunite families.

“We are extremely pleased that that is the case,” said Emily Chiang, the legal director of ACLU-WA, which filed the motion that led to the decision.

Aspects of the so-called Muslim Ban are being challenged by attorneys general in the District Court of Hawaii and by the ACLU in Maryland. But the Doe vs. Trump motion was the first to address the provision preventing families from reuniting. In delivering his decision, U.S. District Judge James Robart reanimated a process that has reunited approximately 2,500 families annually, according to the ruling. It is unclear how many Washington families would be impacted by Saturday’s ruling, but Chiang noted that the state admits the eighth most refugees in the country.

In addition to the Doe vs. Trump ruling, Robart granted a partial nationwide injunction on a ban of refugees from 11 countries, most of which are predominately Muslim. In response to a motion brought by Jewish Family Services and other plaintiffs, Robart wrote in a 65-page memo that the injunction would apply to currently banned refugees “with a bona fide relationship to a person or entity within the United States.” Ties to refugee resettlement organizations qualify as bona fide relationships under the order.

In response, the federal government filed a motion Wednesday evening urging Judge Robart to reconsider the provision that identifies association with a refugee resettlement organization as a bona fide relationship, Chiang told Seattle Weekly on Thursday. “We’re going to have to respond to those papers, and we’ll go from there,” she concluded.

The Doe vs. Trump case was filed by ACLU-WA in February on behalf of a Somali national who goes by the pseudonym Joseph Doe. He brought the case anonymously, because he’s “understandably terrified of retaliation by the Trump administration,” Chiang said.

Doe fled Somalia’s civil war with his family as a child “after a very arduous and horrible journey in which his sister was killed en route,” Chiang said. He and his remaining family members settled in a Kenyan refugee camp and he eventually married a local woman and had children. Meanwhile, his refugee application that was initiated as a child permitted him to move to the United States in 2014. He became a permanent resident two years later. All the while, his family remained in Kenya. Doe initiated a follow-to-join petition to bring his entire family with him in Washington once he arrived, but their application has not been approved since Trump issued the first immigration executive order in January.

Saturday’s ruling could change that. “I am very happy that the judge recognized my right to have my family join me here in the United States, and I hope that they can come here as soon as possible,” said Doe, according to a Sunday press release.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that refugee resettlement organizations reportedly resumed processing follow-to-join petitions. In fact, the federal government reportedly resumed processing the petitions.

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