US lawsuit challenges Trump travel ban

President Trump's policies are tearing families apart, lawyer says

FILE PHOTO: Retired engineer John Wider, 59, is greeted by a supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump as he holds up a sign reading "Welcome Refugees" at the international arrivals terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S. on June 29, 2017.  REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
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They include a dentist whose mother is stranded in Syria, a young mother raising her child alone and a world-class violinist deprived of the chance to work with leading American orchestras.

A total of 36 plaintiffs have launched the first legal challenge to United States President Donald Trump's travel ban on nationals from five Muslim-majority countries since the Supreme Court ruling upheld toughened visa regulations last month.

Muslim Advocates, Lotfi Legal LLC, the Immigrant Advocacy, and Litigation Centre and Public Counsel have filed a class action lawsuit on their behalf arguing that their special circumstances meant they should have been granted waivers.

Sirine Shebaya, senior staff attorney for Muslim Advocates, said: "The waiver process is the only hope for thousands of families seeking to be reunited.

“But as Justice Breyer noted in his dissent in Trump v Hawaii, by all indications, the process has been ‘a sham’.

“The government should follow its own laws and put in place an orderly application process for full and fair adjudication of individual applications.”


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President Trump’s executive order limiting entry allows for exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Such waivers were designed to allow in people who could prove they were no threat to national security, that denial of entry would cause undue hardship, or that their entry would be in the US’s interest.

The plaintiffs include US citizens, lawful permanent residents and citizens of the five banned countries – Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

Some have been told they have been denied a waiver, while others are awaiting a decision, even though – as their suit claims – the public has been given no information on “waiver application procedures, how waiver eligibility determinations are made, or whether any recourse exists for persons who are not considered for a waiver”.

Mohamad Hamami, a renowned Syrian violinist, composer, and conductor, is among those who have joined the suit.

He was granted a visa to enter the US in 2016 after having an interview with US officials in Dubai, where he lives and where his SharQ Orchestra is popular on the concert circuit. But after the travel ban went into force his lawyers were told he did not qualify for a waiver because he had insufficient links to the US.

However, he says those terms were never set out in the presidential proclamation, nor was he offered any chance to apply for a waiver.

“Mr Hamami is losing the opportunity to work with the world’s best violinists and orchestras and to contribute his prodigious talent and unique musical abilities to the artistic scene in the United States,” says the suit.

In other cases, families are divided. Abdurraouf Gseaa, an American citizen living in Texas, is forced to fly back and forth to see his wife in Libya, where she is six months pregnant and so far unable to get a waiver.

Sudi Wardere, an American citizen of Somali origin, is in the opposite position. She gave birth in Washington State and must care for her son alone, juggling a job and day care, because her husband is still in South Africa.

He has not yet seen his son, according to court documents.

Shabnam Lotfi, of Lotfi Legal, said Mr Trump’s policies were tearing families apart.

"Whether it's at embassies across the world or at the southern border, president Trump has made clear that he has no intention of letting deserving people into this country and that his only goal is to inflict pain on anyone he deems an outsider,” she said.

“But the Trump administration created the waiver process, and our goal is to make sure that it's a real process — one that is transparent, accessible, and applied in good faith.”

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