Two U.S. judges temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s administration from enforcing parts of his order to halt immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained for hours in airports in the U.S.
The emergency order was issued by U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn on Saturday night after lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") filed a court petition on behalf of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations who were detained at airports across the country as the ban took effect.
Judge Donnelly's order - which addressed only a portion of Trump's executive action - barred U.S. border agents from removing anyone who arrived in the U.S. with a valid visa from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It also extends to anyone with an approved refugee application.
In her three-page order, Donnelly wrote that without the stay "there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders and other individuals from nations subject to the Jan. 27, 2017, executive order." She further ordered: "I am directing the government to stop removal if there is someone right now in danger of being removed. No one is to be removed in this class."
A separate order issued on a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, forbid the government from removing about 60 legal permanent residents of the U.S. who were being detained at Dulles International Airport. Neither ruling strikes down the executive order, which will now be subject to court hearings. White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday.
"Realistically, we don't even know if people are going to be allowed onto the planes," ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said. "This order would protect people who they allow to come here and reach U.S. soil."
The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") said the court rulings will have no effect on the overall executive action. "President Trump's Executive Orders remain in place — prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety," according to the DHS statement.
The DHS further said it will continue to enforce all of Trump’s orders “in a manner that ensures the safety and security of the American people.” At the same time, the agency said in a statement Sunday that it will comply with judicial orders.
Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the White House, echoed this notion, stating: "Nothing in the Brooklyn judge's order in anyway impedes or prevents the implementation of the president's executive order which remains in full, complete and total effect."
"Radical Islamic Terrorists"
Trump billed his sweeping executive order as a necessary step to stop "radical Islamic terrorists" from coming to the U.S. It included a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen and a 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program. The executive order singled out Syrians, in particular, for the most aggressive ban, indefinitely blocking entry for anyone from that country, including those fleeing civil war.
The directive did not do anything to prevent attacks from homegrown extremists who were already in America, a primary concern of federal law enforcement officials. It also omitted Saudi Arabia, home to most of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
As a candidate Trump pledged to temporarily ban Muslims from coming to the U.S., then said he would implement "extreme vetting" for people from countries with significant terror concerns. He told reporters Saturday the order is "not a Muslim ban."
The White House defended President Donald Trump’s executive order, even as Republican lawmakers suggested the president’s action was too broad. Trump led the charge, telling his almost 23 million Twitter followers on Sunday morning: “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world - a horrible mess!”
Anther Trump tweet reads: “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!”
Of the implementation of his order, Trump has further said: "It's working out very nicely. 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."
Two of the first people blocked from entering the United States were Iraqis with links to the U.S. military. Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi were detained by immigration officials after landing at New York's John F. Kennedy airport on Friday night. They were detained until Saturday night only after their lawyers intervened.
The government can exempt foreign nationals from the ban if their entry is deemed in the national interest, according to the Associated Press. But it is not immediately clear how that exemption might be applied. Trump's order also directed U.S. officials to review information as needed to fully vet foreigners asking to come to the U.S. and draft a list of countries that don't provide that information. That left open the possibility that citizens of other countries could also face a travel ban.
The U.S. may still admit refugees on a case-by-case basis during the freeze, and the government would continue to process requests from people claiming religious persecution, "provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country."
Military: First-known combat death since Trump
Meanwhile, an American serviceman was killed in a raid against al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, the U.S. military said, in the first such loss since President Donald Trump took office. Three others were wounded in the attack on Saturday that killed about 14 al-Qaeda members and led to the capture of “information that will likely provide insight into the planning of future terror plots,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement Sunday.
A military aircraft assisting in the operation was intentionally destroyed after experiencing a hard landing at a nearby location, which resulted in an additional U.S. injury, Central Command said. Just over a week ago, suspected U.S. drone strikes killed three other alleged al-Qaida operatives in Bayda in what was the first-such killings reported in the country since Trump assumed the U.S. presidency.
A U.S. defense official said the raid was approved by Trump. President Barack Obama had been briefed on it before he left office on Jan. 20, but for operational reasons it was not ready to be executed before he departed, according to the official, who was not authorized to discuss details beyond those announced by the Pentagon and so spoke on condition of anonymity.
“This is one in a series of aggressive moves against terrorist planners in Yemen and worldwide,” the U.S. military said. “Similar operations have produced intelligence on al-Qaeda logistics, recruiting and financing efforts.”
Kellyanne Conway, a Trump counselor, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the seven countries covered by the immigration order had been originally flagged by former President Barack Obama’s administration. The individuals held on Saturday can expect to be released “in due course” if they aren’t dangerous, Conway said, adding that situations will be handed on a case-by-case basis.