Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 
By Pete Williams

Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii hold hearings Wednesday on whether to block enforcement of President Trump's revised executive order on travel.

Refugee advocates and civil liberties groups ask the Maryland court to find that the order discriminates against Muslims, "stigmatizing and demeaning one religious group."

Washington, joined by 14 other states, argues that the revised ban is so similar to the earlier one that it, too, should be blocked.

Judges in both courts are urged to act immediately, before the new executive order takes effect on Thursday.

But the Justice Department argues that the new order avoids the legal problems that stopped enforcement of the president's original one.

Issued March 6, the revised order stops issuance of most visas for 90 days to citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen. It also suspends admission of nearly all refugees for 120 days.

In both cases, the challengers say the order is a trimmed down version of Donald Trump's campaign pledge to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S. "He has never repudiated that commitment," says the ACLU in its court filings in the Maryland case.

The ACLU notes that the original executive order called for the government to spend 30 days assessing the quality of background information on visa applicants available from the countries listed in the order.

That provision was never blocked by the courts, but the new order starts an entirely new 30-day period to undertake the same assessment.

The apparent failure to conduct the review, the ACLU says, "suggests that the order's purpose is what the president and his advisers have said all along — to reduce Muslim immigration to the United States — and not some national security purpose."

Image: Immigration activists rally outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington
Immigration activists rally against the Trump administration's new ban against travelers from six Muslim-majority nations outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, D.C., on March 7.Eric Thayer / Reuters

In response, the Justice Department says the order doesn't ban anything but is instead a 90-day pause on entry to the U.S. "from just six countries previously identified as posing particular risks."

The listed countries "represent only a small fraction of the world's 50 Muslim-majority nations and are home to less than nine percent of the global Muslim population," the government says. "And the suspension covers every national of those countries, including millions of non-Muslim individuals."

In both cases, the challengers say the executive order would prevent Americans from arranging for travel by relatives in the six listed countries. But the government contends that such claims are premature, because the revised order provides a "robust system of waivers."

Any such claims, the Justice Department says, are premature and shouldn't be considered by the courts until their relatives seek a waiver and are denied.

The judges have not indicated when they will rule, but it's expected they will act quickly.