Federal judges from coast to coast ruled against parts of President Donald Trump’s immigration order late Saturday and early Sunday, a hint of the fierce legal battle ahead as activist groups take aim at the anti-Muslim measures imposed in the president’s first week in office.
Federal judges in New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington state issued rulings barring deportations of people detained at airports, though the scope and duration varies in each case.
Buoyed by these early – if only temporary – court victories, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups vowed to keep fighting Trump’s sweeping ban of refugees and citizens of seven nations in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, which brought at least one of the lawsuits. “On week one, Donald Trump suffered his first loss in court.”
A federal court in Brooklyn granted a nationwide stay preventing the government from deporting people who arrived with valid U.S. visas. “Our own government presumably approved their entry to the country,” said Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York.
A Massachusetts court early Sunday expanded on that order, barring government agents from detaining anyone arriving at U.S. airports who had received refugee status, held a valid U.S. visa, or had been granted permanent residence.
That order also instructed Customs and Border Enforcement to notify airlines serving Boston’s Logan Airport that no passenger with valid U.S. entry documents would be detained “based solely on the basis of (Trump’s) executive order.”
Two other judges issued more locally focused orders late Saturday. One in Virginia issued a temporary restraining order preventing the deportation of permanent U.S. residents who arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington and ordering that people stopped there must be given access to an attorney. A Seattle federal judge blocked the deportation of two passengers arriving at Seattle-Tacoma airport in Washington state.
The court actions quickly underscored the limitations of Trump’s ability to use executive orders to change immigration policies that have been enshrined in law and practice for decades.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement late Saturday that it would “comply with judicial orders” but would keep in place the executive order restricting entry.
“These individuals went through enhanced security screenings and are being processed for entry to the United States, consistent with our immigration laws and judicial orders,” the Homeland Security statement said.
Outraged families and advocacy groups publicized cases of visa holders and permanent residents, including some who’ve held so-called green cards for decades, being detained at airports or barred from entering the United States, including at least 50 who were being held at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Angry, confused and frustrated family members who’d been waiting for loved ones chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and held signs that read “Release our Family!” and “Deport Trump!!” in the international area of DFW’s Terminal D. Federal officials would not confirm the number of people being detained and DFW Airport officials declined to comment.
Large crowds of protesters also gathered outside John F. Kennedy airport in New York after word circulated that two Iraqis had been detained. Airports in San Francisco and Seattle-Tacoma drew similar demonstrations that lasted well into the night.
Trump told reporters at the White House that the new order is “working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”
Immigration specialists, however, said the wording of the order is so murky that its true scope – at least as it applies to permanent residents and dual citizens – will become clear only through test cases.
A first round of arrivals Saturday caused chaos, with outcomes ranging from immediate deportation to entry for green-card holders only after they’d been questioned for hours about their beliefs. There were also reports of airlines turning back passengers with reservations to travel to the United States because of the new order.
Google, the Silicon Valley search giant, announced that the order may affect as many as 200 of its staff who were traveling outside the country either for work or vacation. Google CEO Sundar Pichai blasted the order in a note to employees.
“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”
Employees of other technology companies were likely to find themselves in similar straits because of the order. Silicon Valley firms employ thousands of non-U.S. citizens.
Also affected were Iraqis who’d helped the United States during the war there but were denied entry, even though they’d been approved under a program that gives them priority for resettlement. U.S. military veterans angrily took to Twitter, denouncing Trump’s order as a betrayal of Iraqis who provided life-saving intelligence and translation services.
“This had been my dream,” said a devastated Fuad Sharef, who’d sold his house in Iraq and quit his job in order to be resettled in Nashville, Tennessee, under the program.
Sharef, his wife and their two children were prevented from boarding a connecting flight from Egypt to the United States. They were forced to board a plane back to Irbil, in Iraq’s Kurdish north.
“No explanation,” he said by phone from the airport. “No explanation, no justification.”
The order applies to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Visa holders and refugees shouldn’t even try to enter, immigration attorneys said. Permanent residents and dual citizens might be able to persuade border security officials to allow them in, they said.
Green-card holders who’d been issued permission to live and work in the United States permanently but who were abroad when Trump’s order went into effect will have their cases reviewed individually and will require a waiver before they can enter the United States, said a senior administration official with knowledge of the situation but who’s not authorized to speak publicly.
Green-card holders in the United States will have to meet with a government official before leaving the country, the official added.
The White House pushed back on the portrayal of the order as a “Muslim ban,” listing several predominantly Muslim countries that are exempt.
“We’re dealing with a relatively small universe of people,” the official said. “It’s important to keep in mind that no person living or residing overseas has a right to entry to the U.S.”
The official also implied that the administration was considering some sort of hardship exemption for refugees who’ve been approved to enter the United States but are currently in a third country. He said the administration is working to define what “in transit” means before announcing how such a procedure might work.
Civil rights groups called Trump’s measures discriminatory and ineffective. They fought back by filing the first legal challenge to the order, on behalf of two Iraqi men who’d been targeted in Iraq because of their work with the U.S. military. The men had been approved for resettlement but were denied entry and detained at JFK airport in New York, according to a statement by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group. Their case was the basis of the emergency stay issued late Saturday night.
Attorney Tarek Z. Ismail said he’s been on the phone nonstop with anguished travelers and their families. One was from a university student, a permanent U.S. resident who’d spent most of her life here, who heard about the ban while on a research trip to her country of origin, which Ismail did not name out of privacy concerns. She boarded a flight to the United States 20 hours before Trump signed the order, but her plane was delayed and she landed half an hour after it took effect.
“This was a complete life shift that was going to happen in the blink of an eye,” said Ismail, the senior staff attorney at CUNY Law School’s CLEAR project, which addresses legal needs of Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities in the New York City area.
Ismail said he had little faith that the government would repeal the ban after a review in 90 days. The idea that it’s temporary, he said, “is folly.”
“This is Donald Trump we’re talking about,” Ismail said.
Allegra Klein spent Saturday frantically calling legal experts to advise her on how to get her Iraqi-born husband, a green card holder since 2015, back from Thailand.
Klein and her husband met on a plane five years ago when they both worked in Baghdad – “love at first sight,” she said – and endured years of turmoil in Iraq before moving to the States to build a more tranquil life. Her husband, a professional athlete who asked not to be named, was in Thailand officiating at an International Wheelchair Basketball Federation championship when Trump announced the order. He was scheduled to return in a few days.
Now Klein faces the prospect of an open-ended separation from her husband as well as thousands of dollars in expenses for immigration attorneys and housing abroad for her stranded spouse. He faces loss of wages if he can’t return to the United States, and Klein said the ordeal could force her to withdraw from classes at the University of Connecticut.
“I am frankly, terrified,” Klein said. “And it’s not some terrorist organization that’s done this to us – it’s our president.”
Osama Alolabi, 20, of Syria, a junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said he also feared for his parents, who’d come for a visit, but were denied entry.
Aloabi said his parents, who’d been staying in Saudi Arabia but have Syrian passports, were traveling on B1-B2 Visitor Visas, which are generally used for business, tourism or visiting.
“I’m really terrified about my family,” said Aloabi, who last saw his parents in August. “That’s all I can think about, is their safety.”
Anita Kumar and Mark David Smith of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report.