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U.S. Ordered by Judge to Partly Lift Ban on Visa Winners (2)

Sept. 5, 2020, 12:25 AM; Updated: Sept. 5, 2020, 5:18 PM

President Donald Trump’s proclamation barring green card applicants, diversity visa lottery winners and other foreign guest workers from entering the U.S., has been partially blocked by a Washington federal judge.

Announcing his edict in June, Trump said the measure was needed to protect American workers’ jobs during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Amit P. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday halted those efforts in so far as they would have prevented diversity visa lottery winners from obtaining their entry papers before the program’s Sept. 30 deadline. The judge ordered the State Department to undertake “good-faith efforts,” to expeditiously process those applications and renewals by that deadline.

Mehta otherwise declined to prevent the president from barring entry by temporary work visa holders, green card applicants, and others. The judge was a 2014 nominee of President Barack Obama.

The court’s order will apply to at least 918 visa lottery winner-plaintiffs, their attorney Curtis Morrison said.

The U.S. State Department is aware of the court’s ruling and is reviewing it with the Department of Justice, a State spokesman said on Saturday.

Mehta’s ruling comes after hearing nearly four hours of argument on Aug. 27 in five consolidated individual and immigrants’ rights lawsuits challenging the legality of Trump’s edict and an earlier one issued in April and extended by that later measure. Gomez et al v. Trump is the broadest case, suing on behalf of businesses, individuals, and organizations. H-1B specialty occupation visa holders stuck abroad and diversity visa lottery winners are also represented in the group of cases.

Trump’s June 22 proclamation extended a previous order barring entry to the U.S. for green card applicants and diversity visa winners, and expanded it to include H-1B and H-4 visas, which are used by workers in specialty occupations and their families, as well as L visas for intracompany transfers and most J visas for work- and study-abroad programs. All visa categories targeted by the proclamation are barred from entry through the end of the year.

The administration said the order was necessary to protect jobs for U.S. workers during the downturn. But plaintiffs in the case argued that logic was flawed, and that Congress has already rejected the premise that competition for jobs in the U.S. is a “zero sum game” by maintaining and expanding the immigration system even in the face of prior economic downturns.

Plaintiffs include employers in essential industries such as shipping and transportation; foreign medical graduates with residencies at hospitals treating Covid-19 patients; diversity visa lottery winners; and guest workers separated from their families and jobs.

Mehta also found that the plaintiffs in the consolidated cases are “substantially likely to succeed” on their claims that the State Department’s policy of not reviewing and adjudicating non-exempt visas is not in accordance with law, and is “in excess of statutory authority, and is arbitrary and capricious.” His ruling ran to 85 pages.

Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg Law, was among several businesses, including Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Google LLC, Salesforce.com Inc., and Spotify USA Inc., that submitted a friend of the court brief backing the plaintiffs’ claim for injunctive relief.

The judge denied the remaining plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, and ordered the parties to file a joint status report by Sept. 25 proposing a briefing schedule for the court’s resolution of the merits.

The case is Gomez et al v. Trump, D.D.C., No. 1:20-cv-01419, opinion 9/4/20.

(Updates with State Department comment at sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

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