Law360 (December 4, 2020, 10:58 PM EST) -- A government attorney told a California federal judge Friday that President Donald Trump lawfully barred noncitizens from moving to the U.S. on new green cards under a coronavirus-related order, arguing that the president's exclusion powers are sweeping.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen fielded arguments over whether he should strike down Trump's green card ban, with government attorney Kimberly Robinson once again invoking the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 decision to back Trump's previous ban on immigration by individuals from several Muslim-majority countries.
"The Hawaii court was quite clear," Robinson said. "Plaintiffs' counsel stated that the president's power is not limitless, but Justice Ginsburg said that the president's power is sweeping."
The high court's split ruling upholding the so-called Muslim ban has been a cornerstone within the Trump administration's defense of his latest restrictions — the green card ban that came down in April, and a June order that extended the green card restrictions through the end of the year and instituted a temporary ban on certain work-visa holders. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented on the Muslim ban ruling.
Robinson argued that Trump met the "sole prerequisite" the Supreme Court set on his exclusionary powers when he cited findings from the secretaries of labor and homeland security that allowing foreign workers into the country would threaten the U.S.' economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Abadir Barre, counsel for the nearly 200 individuals with family members stranded abroad, countered that Trump's June proclamation — the one that included his secretary's findings — spoke of the economic effects of work-based immigration, not family-based.
"None of that is stated here in the four corners of this proclamation," he said.
Barre noted that his clients include U.S.-based parents attempting to reunite with their children abroad.
"We have 22 children," he said. "How can 22 children take away jobs from adults that are working?"
But Robinson pointed out that it was 22 children, as well as adult family members who would work in the U.S. after they enter the country.
"They're not coming in here simply to work," Barre responded.
In October, individuals attempting to bring their spouses, children and family members into the U.S. filed suit in the California court, alleging that their reunification efforts ground to a halt when Trump issued his green card ban.
They argue that Trump lacked the authority to restrict immigration in such a way, claiming Trump used the ongoing health emergency to attack family-based immigration and noting his several tweets and live appearances disparaging the program.
They additionally lobbed claims at the U.S. Department of State. Though their petitions to bring their family members into the U.S. have been approved, the individuals claim that the government illegally stopped processing their visa applications.
The challenge to the ban will rest in part on how the court interprets Trump's exclusion powers.
Federal courts have already split on those limits as they hear challenges to the visa ban. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta of Washington, D.C., found the visa ban legal. However, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White, Judge Chen's colleague in the Northern District of California, ruled against the ban, saying Trump could use his exclusion powers to address foreign policy concerns, but not the domestic issue of unemployment.
However, whether a California federal judge will again interpret the scope of Trump's exclusion powers is in doubt.
The government has asked the court to send the case to D.C., with Robinson arguing that the current suit closely resembled the case ongoing there. Under the first-to-file rule, the case belongs in Washington, Robinson said.
However, Barre argued that the suit is narrowly tailored to the question of family-based immigration. The litigation before Judge Mehta was brought by a broad array of plaintiffs, including work-visa holders and diversity visa winners.
Judge Chen took note of the suit before Judge White, saying it also looked a lot like Barre's case, even if it was brought by businesses attempting to bring workers from abroad.
"I understand they're not identical, but a lot of the issues, in the end, overlap. It does involve the same proclamation, the same defendants," Judge Chen said. "We're already at the point where we've scattered the challenges here, so the first-to-file loses some of its teeth."
The immigrants are represented by Curtis Lee Morrison, Kristina Ghazaryan and Abadir Barre of the Law Office of Rafael Ureña.
The federal government is represented by Kimberly A. Robinson of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California.
The case is Young et al v. Trump et al, case number 4:20-cv-07183, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
--Editing by Breda Lund.
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