A federal judge in New York blocked deportations nationwide late Saturday of those detained on entry to the United States after an executive order from President Donald Trump targeted citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the deportations after determining that the risk of injury to those detained by being returned to their home countries necessitated the decision.
Minutes after the judge’s ruling in New York, another came in Virginia when U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a temporary restraining order to block for seven days the removal of any green-card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport. Brinkema’s action also ordered that lawyers have access to those held there because of the ban.
Trump’s order reverberated across the world Saturday, making it increasingly clear that the measure he had promised during his presidential campaign was casting a wider net than even his opponents had feared.
Confusion and concern among immigrant advocates mounted throughout the day as travelers from the Middle East were detained at U.S. airports or sent home. A lawsuit filed on behalf of two Iraqi men challenged Trump’s executive action, which was signed Friday and initially cast as applying to refugees and migrants.
But as the day progressed, administration officials confirmed that the sweeping order also targeted U.S. legal residents from the named countries – green-card holders – who were abroad when it was signed. Also subject to being barred entry into the United States are dual nationals, or people born in one of the seven countries who hold passports even from U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom.
The virtually unprecedented measures triggered harsh reactions from not only Democrats and others who typically advocate for immigrants but also key sectors of the U.S. business community. Leading technology companies recalled scores of overseas employees and sharply criticized the president. Legal experts forecast a wave of litigation over the order, calling it unconstitutional. Canada announced it would accept asylum applications from U.S. green-card holders.
Yet Trump, who centered his campaign in part on his vow to crack down on illegal immigrants and impose what became known as his “Muslim ban,” was unbowed. As White House officials insisted that the measure strengthens national security, the president stood squarely behind it.
“It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “You see it at the airports, you see it all over. It’s working out very nicely, and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”
In New York, Donnelly seemed to have little patience for the government’s arguments, which focused heavily on the fact that the two defendants named in the lawsuit had already been released.
Donnelly noted that those detained were suffering mostly from the bad fortune of traveling while the ban went into effect. “Our own government presumably approved their entry to the country,” she said at one point, noting that, had it been two days prior, those detained would have been granted admission without question.
During the hearing, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt informed the court that he had received word of a deportation to Syria, scheduled within the hour. That prompted Donnelly to ask if the government could assure that the person would not suffer irreparable harm. Receiving no such assurance, she granted the stay to the broad group included in the ACLU’s request.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official had no comment about the rulings late Saturday and said the department was consulting with its lawyers.
The official said enforcement of the president’s order on Saturday had created minimal disruption, given that only a small number of the several hundred thousand travelers arriving at U.S. airports daily had been affected.
Nationwide, he said, 109 people had been denied entry into the United States. All had been in transit when Trump signed the order, and some had already departed the United States on flights by late Saturday while others were still being detained awaiting flights. Also, 173 people had not been allowed to board U.S.-bound planes at foreign airports.
The official said that officers doing case-by-case reviews had granted 81 waivers so far to green-card holders.
DHS began implementing the president’s order immediately after he signed it, according to the official. He declined to say whether the department had an operational plan ready at that time.
Though several congressional Republicans denounced the order, the majority remained silent, and a few voiced crucial support – including, most prominently, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who had rejected Trump’s anti-Muslim proposals during the campaign. “This is not a religious test, and it is not a ban on people of any religion,” Ryan said Saturday. “This order does not affect the vast majority of Muslims in the world.”
The president’s order, signed Friday, suspends admission to the United States of all refugees for 120 days and bars for 90 days the entry of any citizen from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. That list excludes several majority-Muslim nations – notably Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia – where the Trump Organization, now run by the president’s adult sons, is active and which in some cases have also faced troublesome issues with terrorism.
According to the text of the order, the restriction applies to countries that have already been excluded from programs allowing people to travel to the United States without a visa because of terrorism concerns. Hewing closely to nations already named as terrorism concerns elsewhere in law might have allowed the White House to avoid angering powerful and wealthy majority-Muslim allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Amid widespread confusion on Saturday about how the order will be enforced, some administration officials acknowledged that its rollout had been chaotic. Officials tried to reassure travelers and their families, pointing out that green-card holders in the United States will not be affected and noting that the DHS is allowed to grant waivers to those individuals and others deemed to not pose a security threat. It can take years for someone to become a green-card holder, or lawful permanent resident authorized to permanently live and work in the country.
“If you’ve been living in the United States for 15 years and you own a business and your family is here, will you be granted a waiver? I’m assuming yes, but we are working that out,” said one official, who could not be more specific because details remained so cloudy. A senior White House official later said that waivers will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that green-card holders in the United States will have to meet with a consular officer before leaving the country.
But officials made clear that the federal officers detaining refugees and migrants with valid U.S. visas and restricting them from entering the country were following orders handed down by top DHS officials, at the White House’s behest.
The order drew outrage from a range of activist and advocates for Muslims, Arabs and immigrants. More than 4,000 academics from universities nationwide signed a statement of opposition and voiced concern the ban would become permanent. They described it as discriminatory and “inhumane, ineffective and un-American.”
The executive action has caused “complete chaos” and torn apart families, said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
At Dulles, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) addressed more than 100 people protesting Trump’s order. He said: “I remind everybody we are a land of immigrants. . . . Discriminatory tactics breed hatred.”
In New York, lawyers for two Iraqi men detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport – one of whom served the U.S. military mission in Iraq – filed a federal lawsuit challenging the order as unconstitutional.
One of the men, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released Saturday afternoon without explanation from federal officials. “This is the humanity, this is the soul of America,” he told reporters. “This is what pushed me to move, to leave my country and come here. . . . America is the land of freedom – the land of freedom, the land of the right.”
Other advocates promised further legal challenges. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) denounced the order and said it would file a lawsuit challenging it as unconstitutional.
In a conference call with reporters, immigration lawyers and advocates said Trump’s order violated the Constitution, along with U.S. and international laws that guarantee migrants the right to apply for asylum at the border and the Immigration and Nationality Act, which forbids discrimination in the issuance of visas based on race, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.
But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels, praised Trump.
“It’s a prudent measure,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world. It’s not the Statue of Liberty crying. The reaction has been hyperbolic.”
The effects of Trump’s order played out nationwide.
In Dallas, Behzad Honarjou, 43, was supposed to pick up his mother, 70-year-old Shahin Haffanpour, at the airport on Saturday. But when she arrived from Iran via Dubai, she was told that because of the executive order she would be sent back to Iran the next morning.
“I don’t know what to do,” Honarjou said. He said he was seeking an attorney to file an emergency habeas petition, but the courts were closed. Haffanpour has an immigrant’s visa issued by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, last year.
In Philadelphia, Sarah Assali said six relatives from Syria – two uncles, their wives and two cousins – were detained after arriving at the airport there early Saturday. Although they are Christian immigrants with valid visas to join family in this country, they were put on a plane back to Doha, Qatar, three hours later, Assali said.
She said her family members were not allowed to call or contact their family in the United States before being removed. “We don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Philip Bump in Brooklyn, Louisa Loveluck in Beirut, and David Nakamura, Philip Rucker, Mike DeBonis, Lori Aratani, Carol Morello and Rachel Weiner in Washington contributed to this report.