SEATTLE — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson launched a legal fight Monday to stop President Donald Trump from keeping residents of seven Middle East and North African countries from visiting or immigrating to the United States.
Ferguson said he would file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleging the president’s Jan. 27 executive order temporarily banning immigration from those countries is illegal and unconstitutional. He said he would seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the Trump administration from enforcing its provisions anywhere in the country.
While the president enjoys wide latitude in setting immigration policies, “those powers are not without limits,” Ferguson said at a news conference. “We are confident that our lawsuit exposes those limits and makes clear he is operating beyond those limits.”
Washington is the first state to contest the legality of the order, which suspended immigration for 90 days for citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries. Ferguson said other states may join in the days ahead.
The measure has incited protests at airports and in cities nationwide, including in Snohomish County. It’s also stirred fear and defiance among those entangled in the terms of the order.
Everett immigration attorney Terry Preshaw said Monday that she is representing a woman living in Iraq who has family members living in Snohomish County.
“We’re waiting for a ruling on her citizenship claim,” Preshaw said. “Ultimately we expect a favorable ruling.”
The woman is living in Iraq with her children. Because of the president’s executive order on immigration, “she will be unable to obtain immigrant visas for her children at this time,” Preshaw said.
Preshaw said she’s hopeful that with the litigation being pursued by the state “we can get a rollback and get back to business as usual.
“It’s just stunning, absolutely stunning, and heartbreaking,” Preshaw said of the president’s executive order.
Van Dinh-Kuno, who directs Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest from offices at Everett Community College, said her clients from affected countries such as Somalia and Iraq are fearful of talking publicly about the executive order.
“I had a client come to my office crying because they’re afraid of deportations,” she said. “I’m not talking about illegal immigrants; I’m talking about people who hold a green card.”
This issue is personal for Dinh-Kuno, who came with her family as a refugee from war-ravaged Vietnam.
“I’ve been in this country for 41 years as a refugee myself,” she said. “I never believed I’d have to deal with an administration with no heart, no compassion, no feelings for people who have to run for their lives.”
Ferguson’s action drew a sharp rebuke from the leader of the state Republican Party, Susan Hutchison, who said it is a stunt intended to bolster the Democrat’s political resume ahead of a presumed run for governor in 2020.
“I think it is an attention-getting opportunity for him,” Hutchison said. “I think he knows he’s on very thin ice legally.”
That’s not the view of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who attended the attorney general’s news conference. He lauded Ferguson for defending the interests of the state and values of the residents against a “train wreck” of a public policy.
“This is un-American, it is wrong, and it will not stand,” Inslee said. “The clear intent of this executive order is to discriminate against one faith amongst all God’s children.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit follows a ruling Saturday by a federal judge in New York in a case brought by individuals affected by the executive order. It blocked the Trump administration from keeping out residents of those countries if they had approved refugee applications, held valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas or were otherwise legally authorized to enter the United States.
Upon signing it, Trump said the purpose is to ensure a more rigorous vetting process of foreign nationals entering from countries compromised by terrorism.
On Sunday, in response to the demonstrations, the president issued a statement that said, in part: “America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” the statement read. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
Hutchison said polls show a majority of Americans endorse Trump’s approach.
“I think the worry and concern are unwarranted at this point,” she said. “Once extreme vetting is in place I think people will feel very relieved and very welcomed.”
Ferguson said the state’s lawsuit names as defendants the president, high ranking members of his administration and the Department of Homeland Security.
It alleges the president’s actions are “separating Washington families, harming thousands of Washington residents, damaging Washington’s economy, hurting Washington-based companies, and undermining Washington’s sovereign interest in remaining a welcoming place for immigrants and refugees.”
Inslee also said it is a “national security threat” because of its potential impact on members of Washington’s National Guard serving in Iraq. They are deployed alongside Iraqi soldiers who, under this order, would be barred from coming to this country, he said. That will play right into the hands of anti-American propagandists, he said.
“Stop giving ISIS recruiting posters,” he said. “That’s what this exec order is.”
Neither Ferguson nor Inslee is worried about Trump retaliating against the state.
“We will not be threatened. We will not be intimidated,” Inslee said. “We will not be bullied on this.”
Herald writers Sharon Salyer and Noah Haglund contributed to this report.