The processing of asylum requests for the family of a Syrian man living in Dane County has not been affected by a presidential executive order barring immigration from Syria, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers said in a court filing Friday.
But a lawyer for the family warned that a future executive order from President Donald Trump, expected in a week, makes that standing uncertain.
The filing is part of a lawsuit filed anonymously on Monday by a Syrian man granted asylum in the U.S. in May 2016 after he fled war-torn Aleppo in 2014. His wife and daughter remain there and he is seeking to have them join him in Dane County.
Friday’s document, written at the request of U.S. District Judge William Conley, says the petitions filed on their behalf are being processed on an “expedited basis” at the request of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
That is based on the government’s “preliminary review” of the petitions, the filing adds.
The government’s filing on Friday prompted the man’s lawyers to drop a request for an injunction blocking enforcement of the executive order, according to an order Conley issued later Friday, after a status conference in the case.
Conley also ruled that the man’s motion for judgment in the case is now moot but can be revived if lawyers for the man find that the government has misstated the status of the asylum petitions, or if the Trump administration issues a revised executive order that could affect the man’s asylum petitions for his family.
After Trump issued the executive order on Jan. 27, the filing states, efforts were made to comply with the order. But after a Seattle-based federal judge on Feb. 3 barred enforcement of the order, the government again began processing petitions for asylum made by people who are in the Syrian man’s situation.
“Processing of asylee relative petitions currently continue unaffected by the Jan. 27, 2017, executive order,” the court filing states. An asylee is someone seeking asylum.
The man’s lawsuit asks that sections of Trump’s executive order be declared unconstitutional and the government be ordered to grant visas to his wife and daughter. Earlier this week, Conley agreed to allow the man’s suit to proceed anonymously, finding that identifying him would endanger his wife and child.
After the lawsuit was filed, Conley requested updated information on the status of the man’s asylum request for his wife and daughter, and whether the government had continued processing petitions for family members living in Syria after Jan. 27. If not, he asked, does the preliminary injunction from Feb. 3 stop enforcement of that ban?
The government replied that the applications of the wife and daughter, filed on July 7, 2016, are currently pending within a processing center in Nebraska and were expedited by Baldwin’s office.
What this does for the lawsuit, and how it affects the more than two dozen other lawsuits filed in federal courts around the U.S., depends on a new executive order on the issue expected soon from the White House.
The order filed Friday means that the request for immediate relief is withdrawn, said Lester Pines, a Madison lawyer who is part of a team representing the Syrian man.
“They are processing the application of our client on an expedited basis, we accept that ... but there is going to be a new executive order next week, or so they say,” said Pines.
“So we await this incipient executive order and see what effect it has, if any, on the processing of derivative asylum applications,” he said.
An asylum-related application is not the same as a refugee application, he said.
“Asylum has a particular definition. Essentially if life or safety is threatened if they return to their home country, they can be granted political asylum,” said Pines.
“It is a fundamental aspect of international law, if a person threatened with death, already having been tortured, can get to another country and ask to ‘let me stay in a safe haven,’ that is what asylum is and what our client came here, asked for and was granted.
“And legally, under asylum when granted, he is entitled to apply to have his family join him, which is another form of humanitarian relief.”
The Jan. 27 executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry in the United States,” set up a 90-day suspension of entry to the country from seven countries, including Syria, “identified as posing a heightened risk of terrorism,” and a temporary 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.