Refugee agencies challenge order requiring state consent for resettlement

Three refugee resettlement agencies filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging an executive order that requires states and local governments to consent to receiving refugees, calling the order “unprecedented.”

In late September, Trump issued the executive order at issue in Thursday’s lawsuit. The order directed states and localities to provide written consent to resettle refugees in their jurisdictions.

Refugee resettlement agencies, which are charged with placing refugees in communities across the country, pushed back on the order, arguing that the order had the potential of limiting the places where refugees could eventually be resettled. Three of those agencies — HIAS, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services — filed Thursday’s lawsuit.

“The President’s order and resulting agency actions threaten to deprive thousands of refugees of their best chance to successfully build a new life and to burden thousands of U.S. families who are waiting to reunite with their parents, children, and other relatives fleeing persecution,” the lawsuit, which seeks to block the order, reads.

The executive order is not expected to take effect until June 2020.

Trump has slashed refugee admissions during his time in office. Most recently, he set a cap — the number of refugees who may be admitted to the US — of 18,000, a new historic low. The ceiling for fiscal year 2019 was 30,000, which, at the time, was the lowest level since 1980.

As a result of the declining admissions under the Trump administration, all nine resettlement agencies have had to close offices or pause their placement programs — chipping away at a system designed to not only place refugees but also help them integrate into communities across the country.

To that end, Thursday’s lawsuit notes that Trump’s executive order threatens to “dismantle organizations — including Plaintiffs — that have spent decades developing networks, expertise, and resources to carry out the American ideal of welcoming refugees.”

The resettlement agencies also argue that refugee admissions have been a boon to cities with declining populations, helping boost local economies.

Since the release of the executive order, some governors have come out in support of the resettlement program.

In a letter sent to Trump in late October, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert pointed to Utah’s history as a haven for Mormons fleeing persecution.

“Our state was founded by religious refugees fleeing persecution in the Eastern United States. Those experiences and hardships of our pioneer ancestors 170 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many Utahns,” Herbert said. “As a result we empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, also sent Trump a letter, noting that his state would welcome any refugees rejected by other states. And Oregon Democratic Gov. Kate Brown posted a video response supporting refugees.

Thursday’s lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Maryland Southern Division.