Courts aren't touching the worst part of the immigration executive order

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled 10-3 against Donald Trump's immigration executive order, keeping in place an injunction against its enforcement. This, for those struggling to keep up, is the second 'travel ban' order: the President gave up on defending the first one in court after it appeared headed to resounding defeat. The new version is somewhat less obvious in its Muslim-targeting, but the courts are still taking a dim view of it.

Or most of it, anyway. One major part of the order, in both versions, suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days and cuts the overall refugee quota for 2017 from 110 000 to 50 000. These sections are not at issue in the 4th Circuit case, and there's not much any court can do about them: the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) is run largely at the discretion of the president. In one case, state governments are arguing that refugee numbers can only be reduced after 'appropriate consultation' with Congress - which wasn't done here, but easily could be. If Trump wants to admit vastly fewer refugees to the US, he more or less just can.

There's a very strong case for saying that the refugee provisions are the most damaging and flagrantly unjust part of the executive order. About 90 000 people were affected by the first order; the second one exempts Iraq, so probably hits about 75 000. This year alone, the refugee decision will mean that 60 000 fewer people can get help. And whereas the cap had been increasing in recent years - from 70 000 in 2013 to 110 000 slated for this fiscal year - it now seems very likely to stay at this much lower level. Even a one-off cut in refugee numbers has multi-year effects: it took several years for admissions to recover from temporary pauses invoked after 9/11.

So: 60 000 this year, and at least as many for each of the next few years. And without wanting to engage in good migrant/bad migrant divisions, the people affected by the refugee provisions are significantly more vulnerable than immigrants in general, including those affected by other sections of the order. What the quota cut means is that tens of thousands of people who have been certified as refugees - facing serious threat of persecution and violence in their home countries - and who've been identified by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as in particularly urgent need of a new place to live, won't get one. And to indulge the nonsensical and Islamophobic justification of the ban for a moment, a large majority of refugees admitted through USRAP don't come from majority-Muslim countries at all.

These people aren't being detained in American airports. In most cases, we don't even know which particular people would be affected. What we know is that buried in the Muslim ban is a provision that inflicts terrible harm on people in dire need who've already been vetted. They're nameless and faceless, and the judicial successes we're reading about are mostly no help to them at all.