President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from travel to the U.S. is unconstitutional because it creates “favored and disfavored groups based on their faith,” according to a new lawsuit filed by the Committee on American-Islamic Relations in a Virginia federal court on Monday.
The suit against Trump, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the Department of State, and the Director of National Intelligence names more than 20 plaintiffs, a dozen of whom are identified only as John or Jane Doe because of the precariousness of their legal position. It refers to Trump’s order, officially known as “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” as the “Muslim Exclusion Order” throughout.
“Our First Amendment is under attack. We, as attorneys, are foot soldiers of the American Constitution and took an oath to protect all from being targeted by the government because of their faith,” Shereef Akeel, an attorney who is co-counsel on the lawsuit, said in a press release.
The suit argues that Trump's executive order is both broader and narrower than the policy he proposed in December, when he promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what's going on.”
The executive order, the lawsuit argues, is narrower because it only applies to seven Muslim-majority countries. But it's also broader because it may interfere with immigration benefits for those who lawfully entered the United States from the seven countries on the list.
While the order “does not apply to all Muslims, the policy only applies to Muslims,” the suit says.
Non-Muslims from the seven countries listed, including at least one Yazidi Iraqi, have also been affected by the ban. But the text of the order cites the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks as an inspiration for the ban (although none came from the seven countries affected), and Trump’s allies have admitted it is an attempt to combat what they term “radical Islamic terrorism.”
The plaintiffs list is a who's who of Muslim-American activists, including Arab American Association of New York Executive Director Linda Sarsour and Rashida Tlaib, one of the first Muslim women to be elected to a state legislature in the U.S.
But it’s the stories of the anonymous plaintiffs that pack the emotional punch.
One is a Muslim American in Albany County, New York, who filed a marriage petition for his pregnant wife, a Sudanese national. Another is a permanent resident of Syrian origin whose citizenship application may be denied—even though he “is one of few critical care physicians servicing an underserviced area in the United States,” the lawsuit said.
“In the event he is prevented from returning to the United States, the area he serves will be lacking an essential physician to provide critical care to a substantial population in the United States,” it states.
Another is a Syrian national who serves as an imam in Michigan. If he leaves the country, “he will be prevented from returning to his home and to his congregation despite his lawful permanent resident status, pursuant to the Muslim Exclusion Order, and based solely on his religious status as a Muslim and his Syrian national origin,” the suit states. “Moreover, Plaintiff John Doe No. 1 will be denied citizenship in the United States, pursuant to the Muslim Exclusion Order, based solely on his religious status as a Muslim and his Syrian national origin.”
Other anonymous plaintiffs include Somali and Yemeni student visa holders, a Syrian asylum-seeker whose ability to seek lawful permanent residency is now in jeopardy, a Sudanese national whose application for citizenship is being held up and whose Sudanese wife (though she has never lived in Sudan) is waiting to come to the U.S. through a marriage petition.
CAIR’s lawsuit is not the first filed against Trump’s executive order, but it is the broadest. Attorneys for two Iraqi men filed a class action suit in New York’s Eastern District on Saturday, saying detaining people with valid visas is unlawful.
“Because the executive order is unlawful as applied to petitioners, their continued detention based solely on the executive order violates their Fifth Amendment procedural and substantive due process rights,” they wrote.