Trump scolds judges considering immigration order

Immigration | Federal appeals court panel presses government lawyer on level of risk posed by refugees
by Evan Wilt
Posted 2/08/17, 12:34 pm

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump claims politics is getting in the way of national security, criticizing the judicial system for holding up his divisive executive order on immigration.

“I don’t want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased,” Trump said at a gathering of law enforcement officials Wednesday morning. “But courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they could read a statement and do what’s right.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard oral arguments Tuesday evening in the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court decision to halt the temporary ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Trump signed the order Jan. 27. The action banned refugees from entering the country for 120 days, barred immigration from Syria indefinitely, and blocked travel from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen for the next three months. Trump said the changes are crucial to give officials time to develop “extreme vetting” procedures for persons coming from countries torn apart by radical Islamic terrorism.

But the order created confusion for officials trying to implement it, and angry protests popped up across the country. Washington state and Minnesota filed a joint lawsuit against the president’s decree and won a temporary restraining order from a federal judge in Seattle. 

During Tuesday’s 9th Circuit hearing, Justice Department lawyer August Flentje argued Trump’s order was well within the president’s power.

But the three-judge panel pushed back. Michelle Friedland, a President Barack Obama appointee, William Canby, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, and Richard Clifton, a President George W. Bush appointee, each raised concerns about Trump’s order.

Clifton asked for evidence the seven affected countries posed a real risk. He noted the United States already has processes in place to vet persons coming from Muslim-majority countries. 

“The president determined that there was a real risk,” Flentje responded.

Trump began his speech to law enforcement officials by citing a piece of U.S. code he believes establishes the legal underpinning the White House needs to carry out the executive order. It pertains to the president’s ability to suspend entry to the country as he deems necessary. 

“A bad high school student would understand this,” Trump said of the legal rationale for his executive order.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also defended the executive order before a House committee Tuesday. He did not call the order a ban but a necessary “pause” on immigration to implement better vetting procedures.

But Kelly conceded the executive order’s rollout was not perfect and if given a second chance he would have done things differently.

“In retrospect, I should have—this is all on me, by the way—I should have delayed it just a bit, so that I could talk to members of Congress, particularly the leadership of committees like this, to prepare them for what was coming,” Kelly said. “Although I think most people would agree that this has been a topic of President Trump certainly during his campaign and during the transition process.”

Trump dismissed suggestions the order and its implementation could have been handled better. He said the pronouncement was beautifully written and any delay would have sparked bad actors to pour into the United States while they could.

The 9th Circuit could issue a decision as early as Wednesday. No matter the outcome, an appeal to the Supreme Court is almost certain.

“We have to give you the weapons that you need,” the president told law enforcement officials. “And this is a weapon that you need, and they’re trying to take it away from you.”

Evan Wilt

Evan is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Washington, D.C.

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