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Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Second Effort at Travel Ban

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the White House’s second effort to impose a travel ban that colleges have said would damage their appeal to international students and scholars but that President Trump has defended as necessary to protect the nation from terrorism.

In a 43-page ruling, Judge Derrick K. Watson of the U.S. District Court in Honolulu granted a request to issue a temporary restraining order, effective nationally, to prevent the new travel-ban policy from being carried out.

The policy, which would have sharply limited travel by citizens of six majority-Muslim nations and would have suspended refugee admissions for four months, had been due to take effect at midnight, Eastern time, on Wednesday night. The request for the restraining order had been made by the State of Hawaii and by Ismail Elshikh, a leader of the state’s Muslim community.

The new travel ban, issued last week, was described by the Trump administration as more limited, and therefore more likely to pass legal muster, than the original one, which had been blocked by federal courts. But colleges and universities said it would bring them little assurance that their current students and scholars from abroad would find it easy to visit their homes, attend conferences, or conduct research outside the United States.

More seriously, college officials said, the perceptions created by the new policy would make scholars and students overseas less interested in coming to American campuses. Such visitors must already submit to extensive screening and scrutiny that have been required since the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The perceptions appear to have colored the views of respondents to a recent survey of prospective international students; one out of three of them said the current political climate, chiefly caused by “the U.S. presidential administration,” made them less interested in studying in the United States.

Judge Watson’s ruling resembles in several ways the ruling by Judge James L. Robart of the U.S. District Court in Seattle, who last month issued a restraining order, later upheld by an appeals court, against the first travel-ban policy. And indeed, Judge Watson quotes liberally from Judge Robart’s ruling. Both judges found that states had standing to challenge the policies in court because they operated public universities that could be damaged, financially and in other ways, by a federal crackdown on international travel. Both judges found the policies to discriminate against Islam — a violation of the First Amendment — because even though the restrictions were limited to certain countries, all are majority Muslim.

“In spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose,” Judge Watson wrote, “a reasonable, objective observer” would conclude that the order had been “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.” Moreover, he went on, the record he considered contains “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the executive order and its related predecessor.”

Several other states are suing to block the new policy, and on Wednesday federal courts in Maryland and Washington State were hearing arguments in two of those lawsuits, so additional rulings could be issued soon.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a law professor at Cornell University, said in an email that the Trump administration was likely to appeal Wednesday’s ruling. But, he said, “President Trump and his advisers should think long and hard before trying to impose a travel ban a third time. They may strike out.”

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