November 21, 2019 / 1:02 PM / 24 days ago

Lawsuit challenges Trump order requiring local sign-off on refugees

FILE PHOTO: People protest against planned Trump administration cuts to the U.S. refugee resettlement program, in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. coalition of refugee resettlement groups sued the Trump administration on Thursday seeking to block a new policy that would allow refugees to be resettled only if state and local officials agree to accept them.

The lawsuit, filed a Maryland federal court, argues that Republican President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he issued an executive order in September that mandated the approval of states and localities before refugees can be sent to those places.

The Trump administration has said the consent requirement will help ensure that receiving communities have the resources to integrate refugees into their populations. But refugee resettlement groups say it would give local governors and mayors a veto over who they accept, which they assert is unconstitutional and would disrupt the way the groups work.

The new requirements “threaten to systematically dismantle the organizations - including plaintiffs - that have spent decades developing networks, expertise, and resources to carry out the American ideal of welcoming refugees,” the lawsuit alleged.

Trump set a ceiling of 18,000 refugee admissions for this year, the lowest level since the program began in 1980. By contrast, former Democratic President Barack Obama proposed resettling 110,000 refugees in fiscal 2017.

State Department guidance to resettlement agencies released earlier this month said the groups must obtain the consent from governors and county executives in areas where refugees will be placed. The agencies must submit funding proposals to the State Department by Jan. 21.

The lawsuit was brought by HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Church World Service (CWS) and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). The groups make up three of the nine U.S. resettlement agencies.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of LIRS, criticized Trump’s executive order, which the agencies contend conflicts with federal law governing refugee admissions.

“This executive order is unconstitutional and compassionless, and reflects a complete misunderstanding of the refugee resettlement process in this country,” she said in a statement.

Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Richard Chang

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