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Seattle Lawyer Challenging Trump’s Muslim Ban: “The Outpouring of Support is Unprecedented”

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Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security began allowing visa holders affected by Trump’s order to board U.S.-bound flights. The agency said it had “suspended any and all actions” related to the travel ban. Among those who were able to travel back to the U.S. was a 12-year-old Yemeni daughter who was able to reunite with her family on Sunday. For more, we speak with her family’s lawyer, Matt Adams. He’s the lead attorney for a class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s executive order.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, just two weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump is locked in a battle with the federal courts over his executive order that bans refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re turning right now to Matt Adams. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Matt. Talk about the significance of what took place on Friday. Explain who the judge is that ruled against Donald Trump.

MATT ADAMS: On Friday here in Seattle, Judge Robart entered a nationwide order that puts an immediate halt to the executive order insofar that it halts individuals, whether they’re refugees or family members who are coming here from immigrant visas or students, from returning to the United States. And the impact was tremendous. We’ve had clients reaching out to us by the scores, who are now desperately taking—moving forward to be reunited with family members.

And you asked about who the judge is. Judge Robart is a very well-respected judge here in Seattle who was nominated by President Bush—unanimously nominated. I think there’s this initial gut reaction, like, “Oh, it’s some leftist judge out in Seattle, Washington.” But Judge Robart is a very deliberate, thoughtful judge who has just a sterling reputation on all sides for being very careful in how he proceeds forward and analyzes and complies with the law and ensures that the parties before him comply with the law.


MATT ADAMS: So I think it’s—sorry, go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, I’m sorry. Matt, I was going to ask you, your lawsuit—your lawsuit is distinct from that of the state of Washington. Could you explain the differences between them?

MATT ADAMS: Sure. Last Monday, both our organizations, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the American Immigration Council, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, brought a class action lawsuit on behalf of individuals who are being affected by this ban. So we had brought three named representative families, that included two U.S. citizen parents and one lawful permanent resident, and their children, who are being separated by them because of this ban. At the same time, the state of Washington came forward and brought their own action in federal court, asking the judge to immediately put a halt to this, saying that this has a tremendously—a tremendously horrible impact on the residents of the state Washington and that they have the right to stand up for the community that they’re elected to represent.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Judge Robart was appointed by George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate?

MATT ADAMS: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: His ruling, explain why this, in particular—though the case and judges have ruled around the country—put a halt on all of the Muslim ban around the country. And then, what happened next through the weekend?

MATT ADAMS: So, as we know, over the weekend, there were various courts all across the country that weighed in, rejecting the government’s efforts to deport individuals who had showed up to the border and were being placed into custody and scheduled for summary deportation. So what’s different here is that after—so, for example, over the weekend, a court in New York issued a nationwide stay, as well, saying that the government was no longer able to detain and deport individuals who had showed up at the airports. But then our federal government made it so that individuals could no longer board planes from the countries, the points of the departure, to arrive here. And at the same time, they put into effect other provisions of the executive order, which included stopping individuals who had already gone through years of vetting and security clearances to determine their eligibility for refugee status from now being able to board planes and come to the United States.

And so, what this court’s order did was say not only is it unlawful to lock up the individuals at the airport and summarily deport them, but it’s unlawful to give effect to the court’s order that’s blocking these individuals from coming to the United States. And he laid out this temporary ban, while the court moves forward in adjudicating the underlying merits. But in issuing that ban, he made a finding that indeed the state of Washington is likely to prevail upon their claims, because the federal government has not presented justification that they are permitted under the Constitution to bar individuals based upon their religion, based upon their national origin.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, so now move to the situation where the Trump administration has appealed to a three-judge panel of the circuit court, the Ninth Circuit. What happens now? Assuming that the circuit court will reach some kind of a decision, does it go to a full hearing of the court, or does it go to the Supreme Court? What’s the procedure from here on in?

MATT ADAMS: We’re already in a very unusual legal posture. It’s almost unheard of for there to be an appeal of a temporary restraining order. Instead, courts of appeals usually require the parties to move forward on their motions for what’s called a preliminary injunctive—a request for preliminary injunctive relief, which is a longer-term determination made by the lower courts, and that gives both parties an opportunity to fuller brief the case, to present the evidence that’s necessary to give careful deliberation to the matter. So the federal government is already requesting the court of appeals to set aside their traditional norms and to weigh in at this early juncture, even before the federal government has had an opportunity to submit the necessary briefing to try to defend their actions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain—

MATT ADAMS: So, what is the court of—sorry, go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: That court of appeals right now, a Carter, an Obama and a Bush appointee will make this decision before, if it’s appealed to the Supreme Court?

MATT ADAMS: That’s right. So there’s now a panel that’s going to be receiving the final briefs by 3:00 p.m. Pacific time today from the parties that are involved, and will then have indicated that—shortly thereafter, are going to issue their final decision on whether they are going to allow the temporary restraining order to stay in place. Now, presuming that the Ninth Circuit does not, or regardless of where they go, it’s very likely that there is going to be a petition for the Supreme Court to then weigh in, although, again, like I said, we’re on—it’s already extremely [unusual] that you would even have the court of appeals weighing in. So, whether the Supreme Court will weigh in at this very early juncture of the case, before they’ve had an opportunity for it to be—go through the normal process, where you get the—really, the full legal arguments and the evidence that’s necessary presented to them, we’ll wait and see what happens there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So, the normal process then would be—let’s say, if the three-judge panel rejects the government’s claim to overturn the temporary restraining order, it would go back to the lower court to actually have a hearing on the merits of whether there should be a preliminary injunction, correct?

MATT ADAMS: That is right. And at the hearing on Friday, Judge Robart instructed the parties then to set up a schedule for which the government could submit a more complete briefing and a response into their opposition to the state of Washington’s challenge.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt, can you talk about the people you represent and what happened to them? Have they gotten into the country? Have these families been reunited since Judge Robart’s decision?

MATT ADAMS: Yeah, so one of our lead plaintiffs, Mr. Ali, who’s now a U.S. citizen and had traveled to Jordan to meet up with his 12-year-old daughter from Yemen, who had finally gone through years of this process to be reunited with her mother and father, who were already living in the United States, who are now both United States citizens, and her two sisters, again, who are already United States citizens—so, she had finally been approved. He met her in Jordan, where they had to travel to go to the consulate, the consular interview, because, of course, the conditions in Yemen are so dangerous that the U.S. Consulate pulled out of Yemen. They were approved. They showed up at the airport. And then the father was instructed that only he could get on the plane, that the 12-year-old daughter would have to remain behind because of President Trump’s ban. And so, ever since then, they’ve been left in this desperate, chaotic situation, not knowing what they could do. The father, needing to return—he’s the sole breadwinner for his family. But, of course, he can’t abandon his daughter in Jordan. And the family, of course, doesn’t want to send her back to Yemen, in that war-torn country.

And so, fortunately for them, due to Judge Robart’s order, they were finally able to board a plane on Saturday and commence a journey that took three different flights to get here to the United States. And yesterday evening, for the first time, this 12-year-old daughter was reunited with her mother, her father and her two sisters here in the United States. And, I mean, just thinking about that, it’s hard to imagine. When they were first instructed at the airport that the girl was not going to be permitted to board the plane, of course she broke down in tears, and the family has been in a desperate situation.

And this is just one of many. We have another individual here. He’s the spouse of a U.S. citizen here in Seattle. He showed up on Saturday. His immigrant visa process had, again, gone through this lengthy clearance. He had gone and been approved at the consular interview. And yet, when he showed up in Seattle, he was placed in handcuffs and then summarily loaded onto a plane and deported. He was deported to Vienna, Austria. He’s a citizen of Somalia. But now, thanks to the judge’s order, he was able to board his flight and enter the United States yesterday, entering into Atlanta, and will be arriving here in Seattle this morning to finally be reunited with his spouse. And there are stories like this all over the country of families who are desperately moving forward to be able to now be reunited, thanks to Judge Robart’s order saying that, no, he’s not going to permit the federal government to continue on discriminating against individuals, trampling on the statute, the Immigration Nationality Act, which precludes the executive branch from issuing visas based on national origin or country of birth—


MATT ADAMS: —and the Constitution, which guarantees—yes, please, go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Matt, I wanted to ask you—the response from the legal community to this ban, all around the country lawyers mobilizing to assist clients, and now we have companies like Apple and Google and dozens of other major companies in America weighing in, as well as this. Have you—are you familiar with some of the other lawyers of this kind of response in the past?

MATT ADAMS: I’ve been practicing immigration law and working on behalf of immigrant rights for the last 20 years, and I have never seen anything similar to what’s occurred here. I mean, one of the things that’s been so gratifying was to see, from the get-go, the state of Washington step up and make very clear that despite the Trump administration’s threats about defunding sanctuary jurisdictions and threatening to impose other sanctions, that they made very clear that they were going to stand with the immigrant and refugee communities. And moreover, they then marched forward and filed this lawsuit. And I think it follows a long tradition here in Washington state of solidarity with the immigrant communities. But it’s not just here in Washington state. We’re seeing this all across the country. And we’re seeing, as you say, not just nonprofit organizations, but corporations, people in the streets, people protesting in the airports. And the outpouring of support by the community, I think, is unprecedented. And it just goes to show that the community is not simply going to stand down when Donald Trump moves forward acting in complete disregard of the Constitution and the laws that our country has in place. And I think it goes beyond that.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to what Donald Trump said in response to Judge Robart. It’s not the first time Trump has attacked a judge. Last year, Trump went after the federal judge, Gonzalo Curiel, for ordering him to release internal Trump University documents amidst the ongoing lawsuit arguing the defunct for-profit school defrauded students. This was Trump speaking at a campaign rally in San Diego then.

DONALD TRUMP: I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump. A hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel. The judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican, which is great, I think that’s fine. You know what? I think the Mexicans are going to end up loving Donald Trump when I give all these jobs, OK?

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Donald Trump attacking another judge for his Mexican heritage. Now, he tweeted up a furious storm on Saturday and talked about the “so-called” Judge Robart. Matt Adams, how unusual is this?

MATT ADAMS: We certainly haven’t seen this in the past, where you have—whether it’s the president or his administration individually attacking judges and their decisions. I mean, yes, they attack their decisions, but not individually challenge the legitimacy of the judges. And what I think that does is demonstrate the ignorance and the deliberate disregard of the administration as to the principles, the underlying principles, of our democracy, that there are three equal branches that provide checks and balances on one another.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt Adams, we want to thank you for being with us. Matt Adams is legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and lead counsel for the class action lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s executive order. His lawsuit was filed in Seattle on behalf of three parents legally living in the U.S. who are trying to get their children back in from Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Last question: The attorney general of Washington state, is it true he flew in, just coincidentally, was at an attorney generals’ meeting, into Sea-Tac, into the Seattle airport, in the midst of the chaos? This is before the suit filed by Washington state?

MATT ADAMS: So, I don’t know his schedule. All I do know is that he was there. I know that the governor of the state of Washington showed up and that we’ve had senators show up at the airport to express their support for the immigrant community, both those that are here and those that are potentially facing being denied entry into the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt, thanks so much. Again, Matt Adams with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to the protests in New York. Thousands gathered at the historic Stonewall Inn in the Village, where—the site of the launching of the modern-day LGBT movement. They were protesting Donald Trump around LGBT rights and around the Muslim ban. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. “Born This Way” was part of the medley of songs that she sang and performed last night at Super Bowl Sunday in Houston. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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“Resist, Resist, Resist”: Thousands Protest Trump in Solidarity with LGBT Community at Stonewall in NYC

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