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Agencies sue Trump administration for allowing states, cities to block refugees

Three agencies in charge of resettling refugees in the United States sued the administration of President Donald Trump Thursday over the president’s executive order that sets an unprecedented policy of allowing states and cities to block refugees from being settled in their areas.

The lawsuit was filed by the HIAS nonprofit group that helps refugees, Church World Service, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, asking the court to halt the order.

The agencies contend the order — the first of its kind in U.S. history — will harm the 40-year-old program that has seen an 80 percent drop in the number of refugees allowed to settle in the U.S. under the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump issued the order in September, requiring states and cities to give written consent before refugees can be settled. He also lowered the cap on the number of refugees allowed into the country from 30,000 in 2019 to 18,000 in 2020, the lowest level since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980.

While conservative states like Texas and Tennessee have sued in the past to halt refugee resettlement or demand compensation for the costs, the mayors of more liberal cities like Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville have publicly welcomed in more people who have said they fled danger in their home countries.

Trump’s policy could result in refugee-free states and towns, harkening back to segregation, said Mark J. Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS.

“We fought to end that discrimination and humiliation. Now the Trump Administration has issued an executive order which allows states and localities to ban resettled refugees?” he said. “We won’t tolerate such intolerance.”

Trump’s order says the agencies were not working closely enough with local officials on resettling refugees and that his administration acted to respect communities that believe they do not have the jobs or other resources to be able to take in refugees. Refugees have the right to move anywhere in the United States after their initial resettlement, but at their own expense.

Agencies said they already were working closely with local officials before placing refugees and that Trump’s policy will lead to disruptions, disputes and delays of resettling refugees, further chipping away at the U.S. resettlement program. The resettlement program has long enjoyed bipartisan support and was considered a model for protecting the world’s most vulnerable people because of its close coordination with communities that welcomed refugees, advocates have said.

Under Trump’s policy, resettlement agencies must now spend more time and resources getting written consent from officials to confirm they want refugees and the agencies must submit that documentation by Jan. 21 or risk losing out on securing the federal funds to be able to reunite families and place refugees in places with jobs, language classes and other support for them.

Resettlement agencies were already closing many programs and laying off employees because of the drop in federal funding, which is tied to the number of refugees resettled in the country.

“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 stated.

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