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Appeals court rejects Trump's appeal over travel ban

A federal appeals court refused on Thursday to reinstate President Donald Trump's executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, leaving in place an order from a lower court judge that kept Homeland Security from enforcing the ban at the nation's ports of entry. 

In the 29-page decision, the three-judge panel agreed unanimously to keep in place a ruling issued last Friday by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart, who issued a temporary restraining order against the executive branch. 

Following Robart's decision, lawyers with the White House asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the ruling, arguing that officials from Washington and Minnesota lacked the standing to challenge Trump's executive order. 

However, the court disagreed, writing that both states had standing because, among other things, universities in both were adversely affected by the ban, which blocked citizens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from traveling to the United States. 

Lawyers representing the White House also argued that ban was "unreviewable" by federal judges because the president had the exclusive domain over immigration-related matters, "particularly when motivated by national security concerns." 

However, the court rejected the idea, writing "There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy." 

Moreover, the panel wrote that while the government's interest in combating terrorism is "an urgent objective of the highest order," the federal lawyers failed to submit evidence that an immigrant from one of the seven countries "has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States." 

"Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all," the panel wrote. 

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The decision will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which still lacks a justice after Antonin Scalia died last February and a recalcitrant Republican-led Congress refused to confirm President Barack Obama's pick Merrick Garland. 

Left shorthanded, the court could potentially deadlock on a 4-4 vote and thus, the decision by the 9th Circuit Court would remain in place.

Last week, Arizona's Republican Sen. John McCain joined U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, in calling the order a "self-inflicted wound" in the fight against terrorism.

"It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump's executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security," the senators wrote. "This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security."

The statement by the two senior Republican senators sparked a Twitter rebuke by Trump, who called McCain and Graham “weak on immigration,” “always looking to start World War III” and said they should focus their energies on national security issues.

Under the order, nearly all visitors from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen would be “temporarily suspended” from entering the country for 90 days, according to a Department of Homeland Security document. During that time, the document said, those countries can be reviewed and standards developed to prevent terrorists or criminals from getting in from those countries.

The order placed a 120-day hold on refugee admissions and halted Syrian refugee admissions indefinitely.

Trump said the delay is necessary to ensure the vetting process for refugees is stringent enough to keep terrorists from slipping into the country.

Some Arizona lawmakers defended the order earlier this week, arguing that national security should take precedence.

“This temporary pause in accepting refugees and immigrants from terrorist strongholds is not only legal – it is the necessary first step to positively reforming our refugee program,” said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, in a statement issued Monday.

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But many Democrats were quick to blast the order as nothing less than un-American.

“The United States of America has never known a politics as toxic as this,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a prepared statement Friday. He went on to say that people “will undoubtedly perish as a result of this executive order.”

Cronkite News reporter Arren Kimbel-Sannit contributed to this report.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

An Iraqi interpreter, Enterkhab Al-Saraji, holds a sign as part of a Jan. 31 protest on Congress Street in downtown Tucson against an order signed by President Trump limiting people from seven Muslim countries from traveling to the United States.