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Federal Judge Halts Trump’s Administration’s ‘Legally Dubious and Illogical’ Diversity Visa Policy


WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 30: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James Brady Briefing Room of the White House July 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the day Trump suggested in a tweet that November’s general election should be postponed, citing his unsubstantiated assertions of widespread mail-in voter fraud amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Monday issued a harsh rebuke of the Trump administration, blocking the State Department from denying green cards to winners of the Diversity Visa lottery (DV-2020) in countries affected by President Donald Trump’s regional 14-day out-of-country quarantine requirement.

In a harshly worded order, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, said the “irrational” policy position failed to comply with the court’s previous order directing the State Department to “undertake good-faith efforts” to begin processing diversity visa applications by Sept. 30. Earlier this month, Judge Mehta found that the department had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in refusing to review the diversity visa applications, issuing an injunction preventing the policy’s enforcement.

The State Department responded by issuing new guidance requiring any lottery winners who were physically present in pandemic “hotspots” to quarantine outside of those regions before it can issue a visa to those applicants. But Judge Mehta outright rejected the department’s contention that it was legally compelled to “impose and enforce the Quarantine Requirement” by President Trump’s aforementioned Regional Proclamation, saying it served “no obvious purpose except to delay the issuance” of lottery visas.

“The Quarantine Requirement is premised on a faulty legal position, and it is irrational, too,” Mehta wrote. He reasoned that the State Department had inexplicably fused the restriction in Trump’s regional proclamation with the existing law governing visa issuance.

“[The department] is not saying that the Regional Proclamations foreclose it from issuing DV-2020 visas altogether; rather, the agency has engrafted the Regional Proclamations’ 14-day-presence entry disqualifier onto the statutory requirements for visa issuance,” he wrote. “The Department cites no legal authority that would permit it to take such action. The Department cannot look to the Regional Proclamations themselves for such power, because those presidential orders only place restrictions on entry.”

Mehta also called the department’s Quarantine Requirement “illogical,” reasoning that since no applicant can enter the U.S. until 2021, forcing those applicants to quarantine now, months before setting foot in the country, “can serve no immediate domestic public health purpose.”

“[W]hatever benefit the Department claims might be gained from a 14-day quarantine is suspect, as the State Department has identified no similar policy that is applicable to any other category of visa applicant in a covered region,” the judge continued. “The Quarantine Requirement seems designed to frustrate DV2020 applicants who might benefit from this court’s order. In both form and spirit, the policy is at odds with this court’s injunction.”

Mehta concluded that the department “has no interest continuing a policy that has no evident legal basis,” amending his previous order to include the following: “The court enjoins the State Department from applying or enforcing the Quarantine Requirement for DV-2020 selectees and their derivative beneficiaries.”

Read the full order below:

Judge Mehta Order by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.