Federal judge halts part of Trump immigration order

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WASHINGTON — A federal judge granted an emergency stay Saturday night for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries who have already arrived in the U.S. and those who are in transit, and who hold valid visas, ruling they can legally enter.

The rule was handed down by Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court in New York in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Donnelly said the risk of injury to detainees was a factor in the decision.

The judge added those at risk of being detained most likely would be those who simply were traveling when the ban went into effect.

The decision halts part of President Donald Trump’s executive order, which barred citizens from those seven countries from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days.

This move comes after Trump’s seismic move to ban more than 130 million people from the United States and to deny entry to all refugees reverberated worldwide Saturday, as chaos and confusion rippled through U.S. law enforcement agencies, airports and foreign capitals trying to grasp the U.S.’s new policy.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport, where passengers can often spot the Statue of Liberty on their descent into New York, two Iraqis who had been granted visas to enter the U.S. were detained and prevented from exiting the airport.

Customs and Border Protection officials cited Trump’s new executive order, which bans citizens of Iraq and six other Muslim-majority countries — a total of at least 134 million people — from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days. It also suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

One of the men, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, worked with the U.S. government for 10 years after the US invaded Iraq. He was released early Saturday afternoon due to provisions in Trump’s order that allow the secretaries of state and homeland security to admit individuals on a case-by-case basis.

The other man, Haider Sameer Abdulkaleq Alshawi, had been granted a visa to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor in Iraq, and son, both of whom already live in the U.S. as refugees.

It was not immediately clear how many other cases like Darweesh and Alshawi’s were cropping up at other U.S. airports, which appeared to have been blindsided by the new immigration rule that took effect immediately with Trump’s signature Friday afternoon.

Their attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Saturday morning challenging Trump’s executive order, likely just the first of many challenges in the legal fight many groups plan to wage to overturn Trump’s actions.

Trump on Friday said that his actions would “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.”

“We don’t want them here,” Trump said as he signed the order. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

At the Cairo International Airport, Egyptian officials on Saturday began to turn back U.S.-bound refugees and citizens of the seven countries now barred from entering the U.S.

“This is a new era we are witnessing,” a Cairo airport official said.

Airlines, meanwhile, scrambled to understand the new US policy and worked to warn passengers who might be affected before they boarded their flights.

Qatar Airways posted a travel alert on its website warning nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen that they could not travel to the U.S. unless they are government officials, diplomats or representatives of international organizations.

The German airline Lufthansa said it was not yet “in the position to outline the effect” given the new US immigration rule had only just been announced.

Swift condemnation

Iran, one of the countries whose citizens were banned, slammed Trump’s immigration order on Saturday as an “insult” and a “gift to extremists,” and said it would swiftly reciprocate by banning US citizens from Iran.

“The U.S. decision to restrict travel for Muslims to the U.S., even if for a temporary period of three months, is an obvious insult to the Islamic world and in particular to the great nation of Iran,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday.

“Despite the claims of combating terrorism and keeping American people safe, it will be recorded in history as a big gift to extremists and their supporters.”

The disarray also fell against a backdrop of swift condemnation from human rights groups and national security experts.

The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid and refugee assistance group, called Trump’s decision to suspend refugee admissions “harmful and hasty” and noted that the U.S. refugee program “makes it harder to get to the United States as a refugee than any other route.”

Refugees must undergo an extensive vetting process — it typically takes more than two years to be admitted to the US as a refugee.

“In truth, refugees are fleeing terror — they are not terrorists,” David Miliband, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “And at a time when there are more refugees than ever, America must remain true to its core values. America must remain a beacon of hope.”

The International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, expressed concern about the provision in Trump’s executive order that would prioritize Christians fleeing persecution and conflict in Muslim-majority countries over Muslims fleeing those same countries.

“We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race,” UNHCR and IOM said in a joint statement.

Abed Ayoub, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s legal and policy director, said Trump’s executive order has sown “complete chaos.”

Ayoub said his group has already fielded calls from people around the world impacted by Trump’s executive order, including from students and legal U.S. residents who are citizens of the seven countries banned by Trump and are now stuck overseas.

The executive order “is causing a really destructive impact on the Arab and Muslim community and on the Iranian community in the US,” Ayoub said.

Democrats also slammed Trump’s executive order, arguing his action establishing a religious test for entry is unconstitutional and un-American.

Just as they did during the campaign, national security experts also warned that Trump’s plans to deny refugees entry in the United States and target Muslims or Muslim-majority countries through an immigration ban would be counter-productive or ineffective methods of protecting the U.S. from future terrorist attacks.

“This banning of refugees is kind of a red herring,” national security analyst Peter Bergen said. “It’s not going to make any difference to the terrorism issue, which is overwhelmingly a United States problem.

“Because 9/11, of course, was carried out by 19 foreign-born Arab terrorists, I think we tend to conceive of this as a problem that comes from outside, when in fact, it’s really a problem that is internal to the United States right now.”

“It’s one of those things that sounds like it makes sense, but it doesn’t really when you look at the facts.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday, however, commended Trump for his executive order, noting, “Our No. 1 responsibility is to protect the homeland.”

“We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process,” Ryan said. “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”

More countries could be added to banned list

The Trump administration’s action also indefinitely suspended admissions for Syrian refugees. The order also called on the secretary of homeland security to conduct a 30-day review to determine whether additional countries should be added to the ban.

A senior White House official said the list of seven countries whose citizens are now banned from the US was likely just a starting point.

The official said the administration would be “very aggressive” as it weighs how many more countries to add to the list.

Asked what criteria the administration will consider as it looks to expand the ban, the official said the “mandate is to keep America safe.”

But if that is the goal, many national security experts questioned why Trump’s executive order focused on banning foreign nationals from the U.S.

Citizens and legal U.S. residents have carried out all deadly radical Islamist terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 — not by foreigners visiting the U.S. on a travel visa or by Syrian refugees.