signs reads "we support our muslim neighbors"
A sign at the January 2017 protest of the Muslim travel ban at San Francisco International Airport (Photo/Ruben Arquilevich)

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley files suit to halt refugee ban

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Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley is taking on Donald Trump.

The Los Gatos-based social service agency, along with other like-minded agencies and individuals, filed suit in U.S. District Court today, challenging the Trump administration’s Oct. 24 executive order banning refugees from 11 countries, most of them Muslim-majority.

The lawsuit is distinct from a similar suit filed by the ACLU and Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay against an earlier Trump executive order.

The latest order blocks for at least 90 days refugee resettlement from the 11 countries and indefinitely pauses the follow-to-join program, which reunites spouses and children with refugees already in the United States. A nationwide preliminary injunction motion on both restrictions will be filed in the coming days.

Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of the Los Gatos-based JFS, said, “With family members stuck in limbo and awaiting the chance at safety in the United States, our clients here are begging us, ‘Please save my sister and her little boy. Please save my cousin.’ These refugees cannot go back to their home countries for fear of further persecution, and now America is turning its back on them in their time of urgent need.”

In addition to JFS of Silicon Valley and Jewish Family Service of Seattle — both local partners of HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit agency that protects refugees — plaintiffs include several U.S. citizens and others with family members impacted by the new restrictions.

The plaintiffs argue that the restrictions would block numerous refugees from seeking resettlement through the United States Refugee Admissions Program. Claiming anti-Muslim bias, plaintiffs note that approximately 80 percent of all Muslim refugees who resettled in the United States in the past two years have come from nine of the 11 blocked countries.

Last month, the administration capped annual refugee admissions at a maximum of 45,000, down from 110,000 set by President Barack Obama the year before.

Plaintiffs are being represented by the International Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center; the National Immigration Law Center; attorneys Lauren Aguiar, Mollie M. Kornreich and Abigail Sheehan Davis; Perkins Coie; and HIAS.  The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Said HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield, “The global refugee crisis has reached record high proportions, yet the Trump administration has set a record low ceiling for refugees that may be resettled to the United States. In addition, the administration has once again attempted a ban by indefinitely closing the door on refugees of 11 nationalities, and has even thrown obstacles in the way to prevent refugee spouses from reuniting with one another and with their young children. We’ve seen this before, and we won’t stand for it.”

Added Berkowitz, “We’re hoping to get an injunction that will stop [the executive order]. At this point it’s a case of literally saving lives.”

Correction: This story has been amended to note that Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley had not been party to a previous joint class action lawsuit with Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay.