President Trump’s revised executive order banning travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries threatened to break up families and prevent Shi’a Muslims from studying their faith with religious scholars. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Muslim Advocates and a coalition of other organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional order.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of a Yemeni couple in the United States unable to bring two of their children to America under the executive order. Another plaintiff, the Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA), was effectively barred under the order from bringing Shi’a scholars into the country to teach its members.
The lawsuit outlines how Trump’s order was unconstitutional because it discriminated against the plaintiffs on the basis of their religion and national origin. Given UMAA’s status as the largest organization of Shi’a Muslims in the United States, the lawsuit offered a perspective not found in earlier lawsuits filed against the order, which had been temporarily blocked nationwide when the SPLC filed suit.
In addition to Muslim Advocates, co-counsel in the lawsuit included Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm of Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer.
The Yemeni couple, referred to only as John and Jane Doe in the lawsuit, were living as asylees in the United States while a civil war ravaged their home country. The couple could only afford to bring three of their five children to the United States in early 2015. Their two remaining children, young boys, had recently fled the violence in Yemen and were waiting abroad while a U.S. Embassy considered their visa applications.
The executive order, however, banned Yemeni nationals from entering the United States for 90 days. And despite a provision that allowed for “case-by-case waivers,” the State Department had yet to schedule a consular interview for the boys, which would start such a process. Meanwhile, the couple had not seen their sons in more than two years.
The Universal Muslim Association of America had been unable to bring some of the religion’s highest-ranking scholars to the United States for events, including its national convention, because most of them lived in nations named in the travel ban – effectively depriving the association’s members of the teachings of Islam’s most important scholars.
The executive order was the second attempt to implement the Muslim ban Trump promised on the campaign trail during the 2016 presidential election. It banned travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The earlier order was blocked by the courts.