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Federal appeals court blocks Trump administration refugee settlement policy

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit blocked a Trump administration refugee policy Friday, halting the ability of state and local governments to unilaterally reject resettlements in their jurisdictions.

The Refugee Act, passed by Congress in 1980, created a refugee resettlement program, bringing refugees into the US for humanitarian concerns. An individual seeking participation must be approved as a refugee and sponsored by a resettlement agency. In accordance with the law, the federal government must “consult regularly” with the entities involved in the process.

At dispute in this case, President Donald Trump’s September 2019 executive order interprets “consult regularly” in the Refugee Act as requiring affirmative consent from local and state governments before resettlement. Previously, the federal government met this requirement by simply coordinating with such entities. For example, it would offer agency officials to help resolve any concerns with the program.

In signing the order, Trump asserted that state and local governments need to have a clearer role in the program. Additionally, his administration contended that these governments were best equipped to make decisions about refugee resettlement in their communities.

Various resettlement agencies filed suit against the Trump administration for the policy. Friday’s decision affirms a lower court ruling enjoining the order, thereby stopping the policy from being applied nationwide.

A spokesperson for one of the agencies, Silver Spring-based HIAS, stated that the Trump administration has “broken down” much of the program, but it is expected that the incoming Biden administration will increase the number of refugees coming into the country.