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Mass. Federal Judge Declines Temporary Stay on Immigration Executive Order

Massachusetts Hall
Massachusetts Hall, the home of Harvard's central administration.
A Massachusetts federal judge ruled Friday against plaintiffs supported by Harvard and other Boston-area universities, declining to extend a temporary stay on President Donald Trump’s immigration order.

The suit—filed by five individuals from countries listed in Trump’s order and international non-profit organization Oxfam—called for an extension of a ruling that temporarily opened Massachusetts to travellers from the listed countries. The initial stay, which enabled people like Harvard researcher and Iranian scientist Samira Asgari to land in Boston last week, expired early Sunday.

Harvard and seven other universities in the area—Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute—filed an amicus brief Friday morning requesting that the judge grant “declaratory and injunctive relief” to the plaintiffs.

But Harvard’s and the other universities’ argument did not convince the judge to rule in the plaintiffs’ favor.

“The plaintiffs have not demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of any of their claims,” Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton wrote in his 21-page decision.

Hours after Gorton issued his decision, a federal judge in Seattle granted a nationwide injunction temporarily blocking the executive order, which bars immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. While the ruling from the judge in Seattle renders the Mass. ruling obsolete, the Mass. case featured the University’s first legal challenge to the executive order.

Harvard and the other universities outlined an argument similar to Oxfam’s in their 40-page amicus brief, according to Law School professor Gerald L. Neuman, who specializes in immigration law. Oxfam argued that the executive order “violated its First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, association and petition by barring entry of aliens, including visa holders, into the United States,” according to the ruling.

“The universities were not themselves also plaintiffs in the case, but they filed a brief explaining how their situation is similar in terms of the effect on their First Amendment rights,” Neuman said.

In their brief, the universities charge that Trump’s executive order “undermines the values and contributions of open academic exchange and collaboration” essential to their success.


Amici’s ability to succeed as institutions of higher education depends, in large part, on the ability of students and scholars to collaborate across borders,” the brief reads. “It is essential that our commitments to national security not unduly stifle the free flow of ideas and people that are critical to progress in a democratic society.”

In his ruling, Groton rejected Oxfam’s first amendment argument, writing that Trump had lawfully blocked the entry of specific groups of foreign nationals and upholding Trump’s justification for doing so.

The University decided to sign onto the amicus brief because it is “important to have our voice heard” on the negative effects of Trump’s executive order, Harvard General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 wrote in a statement. Forty-nine students and 62 scholars holding visas from the targeted countries are affiliated with Harvard, according to the brief. The visa applications of 21 scholars from the impacted countries are currently pending.

According to the brief, the executive order barred scholars from entering the country, jeopardized the visas of students from the seven countries, and prompted foreign academics to boycott conferences.

“Harvard’s academic interests are global and we are at our best when the best students and faculty from across the world join together to solve problems for the benefit of society,” Iuliano wrote.

The legal status of Trump’s executive order has continued to evolve since Gorton’s ruling. The Justice Department unsuccessfully appealed for the order to immediately be put back into place after the Washington ruling, but the appeals process remains ongoing and will likely reach the Supreme Court.

“The thing that’s so unusual about this is it’s a high-profile event that affects a lot of people in so many different cases, and they’ve been able to mobilize legal representation, and all of a sudden there’s all this parallel litigation moving forward,” Neuman said.

With simultaneous litigation producing sometimes contradictory rulings—as in the Massachusetts and Washington cases—the status of the executive order even in the very near future is “really impossible to predict,” Neuman said.

“The news one day may be different than the news the next day, because everything is so recent and is moving so rapidly,” he said. “And it’s not all moving in the same direction.”

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at claire.parker@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

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