After ACLU-WA lawsuit, government agrees to prioritize processing of refugees stymied by travel ban

News Release: 
Monday, February 10, 2020
As part of a settlement agreement in a civil rights lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s ban on refugees, the federal government will now prioritize the processing of dozens of refugee cases affecting hundreds of people in the United States and abroad. 

“When you’re separated from your family, it’s like a piece of you is missing,” said plaintiff Jeffrey Doe, a SeaTac airport worker who has been waiting since 2016 to be reunited with his parents and siblings, who are Somali refugees that have been living in a refugee camp in Kenya for over 25 years. “This settlement gives me hope we will one day be together again.”

The settlement resolves two lawsuits that were consolidated, Doe et al. v. Trump et al., and Jewish Family Service of Seattle et al. v. Trump et al. The lawsuits, the first of which was filed by the ACLU of Washington and the law firm of Keller Rohrback L.L.P., challenged the refugee portion of President Trump’s series of Executive Orders banning certain populations from entering the United States, also known as the “Muslim Ban.” The ban prevented the immediate family members of refugees (known as “follow-to-join” refugees), as well as refugees from 11 countries, from entering the United States. 

“This remarkable outcome is a credit to the courage of the plaintiffs, who with their families have endured much in the years since this lawsuit was brought,” said ACLU of Washington Cooperating Attorney Tana Lin of Keller Rohrback L.L.P. “They never gave up, and now each has a chance to be reunited with their loved ones.”

 “The government tried to keep refugee families apart under the pretense of national security,” said ACLU of Washington Staff Attorney Lisa Nowlin. “This settlement aims to undo the harmful effects of the illegal and misguided ban on refugees.”

"Receiving and helping to resettle refugees from the more than 65 million people who have been displaced by war, violence, famine, and persecution is an essential part of living our faith," said the Rt. Rev. Gregory Rickel, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. “This settlement enables us to uphold our moral obligation to welcome and assist those most in need of help.”

Doe et al. v. Trump et al. was filed on February 7, 2017, in federal court in the Western District of Washington. In addition to the diocese and other organizations aiding in refugee resettlement, plaintiffs include people who had their families separated and lives upended by the refugee portion of the Muslim Ban.

In response to the Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, a federal judge stopped the government from enforcing the ban on certain refugees in December 2017. As a result, Plaintiff Joseph Doe was reunited with his wife and three children at SeaTac airport in January 2018, ending three years of separation. Despite the injunction, the ban had already inflicted lasting harm to many refugees and their families, whose applications for refugee status have remained in limbo as a result.

The ACLU-WA’s motion for a preliminary injunction in Doe v. Trump challenged different aspects of the Muslim Ban than those examined by the Supreme Court of the United States in its June 26, 2018 Trump v. Hawaii opinion. 

In addition to Lin and Nowlin, ACLU-WA cooperating attorneys Lynn Lincoln Sarko, Amy Williams-Derry, Derek Loeser, Alison Gaffney, Laurie Ashton, and Alison Chase of Keller Rohrback L.L.P. represented the plaintiffs.