NOEL KING, HOST:
A federal judge in California has ordered the Trump administration to reconsider the asylum requests of nearly 90 Iranians individually. The government had issued a blanket denial to all of them. They have been stuck in Vienna, Austria, for more than a year, but they have family in the United States. And NPR's Deborah Amos reports, that's giving them some hope.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: They've waited in Vienna after closing down their lives in Iran, selling houses, quitting jobs, leaving everything behind. Some are elderly, children, single moms. Their American relatives applied under a unique refugee program set up by Congress - it's known as the Lautenberg Amendment - aimed to provide refuge for Iran's persecuted religious minorities. They were cleared to travel to Vienna by the U.S. government. Without an embassy in Tehran, Austria is the place to complete the processing. But in February, the U.S. sent all of them the same notice - application denied, quote, "as a matter of discretion."
The California judge ruled that the Trump administration has the authority, the discretion, to decide on refugee applications but cannot violate the law. The law was set out by Congress. Each refugee must have an individual ruling, which the judge wants in 14 days. The mass denials are unprecedented, says Mariko Hirose, who argued the case. She's with the International Refugee Assistance program in New York. More than 30,000 Iranians have been resettled since 2004.
MARIKO HIROSE: That program historically has had nearly a hundred percent acceptance rate, and people would stay in Vienna for a few months and then move forward and reunite with their family members in the United States.
AMOS: The government could still appeal the decision, but for now, she says, the ruling gives the stranded refugees a path to appeal a denial, a path that could lead them to reunite with their families. Deborah Amos, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEAT BEATS SONG, "GRAFFITI ON A TUESDAY NIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.