NEW YORK — A federal judge stopped the deportations of immigrant travelers detained at U.S. airports Saturday, partially halting enforcement of President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants of seven Muslim nations from coming into the United States. Saturday night’s ruling came in response to a challenge filed on behalf of two Iraqi men detained Friday night at JFK International Airport and impacted up to 200 others held across the country.
An unknown number of others intending to come back to the United States are trapped in other countries, unable to board planes.
Judge Ann Donnelly‘s emergency stay, issued after an emergency hearing in Brooklyn, does not allow those detained at airports and those in transit Saturday to enter or re-enter the United States. Her ruling, however, prevents the government from returning them to their home countries. Dozens of airport arrivals remain in limbo, unable to enter the country.
The judge also ordered the federal government to turn over a list of everyone currently being detained.
She did not rule on the constitutionality of Trump’s order. And the order did nothing to quell the uncertainty and chaos at U.S. entry points caused by the order, issued without notice and little or no guidance to immigration agents on how to handle those arriving.
Trump made no exception for people already vetted and admitted into the country legally but who were out of the country when he signed the executive order.
One of the Iraqi men, who was handcuffed at JFK Airport, worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for 10 years. He had been granted a special immigrant visa. He was among dozens of people stopped at airports around the United States on Saturday. At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, as many as 18 people were reportedly detained, including children and a man with a green card returning from a family wedding in Saudi Arabia. The detentions at the nation’s major airports moved thousands of people to arrive at airports in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and other cities to protest, chanting “let them in” and “this is what democracy looks like.”
“We won,” said the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho, reacting to the ruling.
Jack Vimo, policy analyst for the National Immigration Law Center, said the lawyers for the two JFK detainees met four crucial factors:
- the executive order causes irreparable harm;
- they have a likelihood of success on merits;
- there is no harm to the government;
- there is a likelihood of receiving class certification.
Vimo tweeted that the ACLU informed the judge the government was putting someone on a plane back to Syria. The judge saw that as putting someone at risk of irreparable harm.
The ACLU said it will continue to file suits on behalf of anyone who is stopped.
It was not clear if the government would appeal the judge’s ruling. If it does, both sides will file briefs and a hearing will likely be held within days.
Very early Sunday morning, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement saying they would honor the rulings by judges but reaffirmed their commitment to enforcing Trump’s executive order.
“The Department of Homeland Security will comply with judicial orders; faithfully enforce our immigration laws, and implement President Trump’s Executive Orders to ensure that those entering the United States do not pose a threat to our country or the American people,” the statement said.
“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.”
Shortly after the ruling, another judge, hearing a similar case in the federal court in Virginia, struck another blow against Trump’s order.
Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered that the government refrain from deporting any green-card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport and allow lawyers to meet with the detainees.
A third federal judge – this one in Washington – also ordered a stay.
Judge Thomas Zilly granted an emergency stay forbidding the government from removing two individuals from the United States until a hearing next week.
He was followed by a fourth judge – in federal court in Boston – ordering Customs officials not to remove anyone for the next seven days.
Judge Allison Burroughs issued her ruling early Sunday morning.
There are also cases pending in Chicago, New York, and other cities.
Trump’s executive order — which exempts certain diplomats traveling to the United States but does not mention those legally residing in the country as lawful permanent residents or with student or employment visas who might be returning to the U.S. — has created a new class of detainees in the United States.
Lawyers involved in the case heard in Brooklyn put the number of those held at 100 to 200.
While many of Trump’s executive orders have been met with criticism for their message, the immigrant ban has already had real impact on real people.
The seven countries in the order are not named but officials say they include Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Iran, Yemen and Sudan. Trump’s order also bans the resettlement of refugees for four months and indefinitely suspends the entry of Syrian refugees.
People who had been given visas to enter the United States after putting their families at risk by helping American troops were stopped as they exited airplanes arriving in airports in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas, and other cities.
The lawyers for two Iraqis who had been granted visas to enter the United States and were detained at John F. Kennedy airport, also are seeking class certification so that they can similarly represent all individuals covered by the executive order. That includes people with approved refugee applications, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas and other individuals from the seven countries banned by the executive order but who would have otherwise been granted legal admission to the U.S.
When signing the order, Trump said it was aimed at keeping out “radical Islamic terrorists.”
Lawyers consulted by ProPublica said the ban could apply to hundreds of thousands of people from these countries who already live in the U.S. under green cards or on temporary student or employee visas. Reuters reported that green card holders from the seven countries who are now out of the U.S. will have to be cleared on a case-by-case basis to re-enter.
A State Department statement reviewed by the Wall Street Journal but not been officially released says the ban would also apply to citizens of those seven countries who hold dual nationality. A federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press that those already in the U.S. with a visa or a green card would be allowed to stay.
A senior administration official pushed back on the idea that the order was a Muslim ban, listing several predominantly Muslim countries that were not affected by the ban.
“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.”
Asked about the immigration executive order on Saturday, Trump said it was not a Muslim ban.
“It’s working out very nicely,” he said. “You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”
The administration is still working to define “in transit” for the purposes of the hardship exemption for refugees who have been approved to enter the United States but are currently in a third country, according to the official.
The ACLU has lawyers stationed at airports across the country. “If you know someone entering country, tell them not to sign anything before talking to lawyer,” the ACLU tweeted.
Even after the stay was issued Saturday night, it wasn’t immediately clear what would happen to refugees and immigrants detained at airports across the country.
At JFK International Airport in New York City, dozens of attorneys huddled in the Terminal 1 arrivals hall attempted to explain to anxious family members what would happen to their relatives, who were still in federal custody.
Jennifer Johnson, another attorney volunteering Saturday at JFK, said she and others were still being denied access to the detainees. She said that tried to deliver a printed copy of the stay to the airport’s CBP headquarters, but officers wouldn’t accept it — so she slipped it under the door.
“Where are our clients? Where are our friends? Where are our family members?” she said. “Let’s talk about the people still detained.”
Soon after, one Syrian woman in a wheelchair was released from Terminal 8 at JFK.
In Chicago, where the international terminal was packed with protesters, both inside and out, tearful reunions took place amid cheers as some detainees were released. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, responding to the O’Hare detentions, blasted the president’s actions.
Trump’s actions “have tarnished America’s standing as a beacon of hope for the free world,” Emanuel saidin a statement. “Following the stay that was granted this evening, I am calling on the federal government to immediately produce a list of the names of anyone currently being detained at O’Hare or Midway airports, and calling on those unjustly affected to immediately be released and allowed access to legal counsel.”
After the judge’s ruling in Brooklyn, those detained in Chicago were released.
NBC Philadelphia reported two Syrian families detained at Philadelphia Airport were sent home on a return flight. The New York Times reported that the trip of a Syrian family of six headed for a new life to Ohio had been called off. According to the Times, a young Iranian woman and her family were ordered to leave a flight that had stopped in Istanbul.
Hameed Khalid Darweesh, one of the Iraqis detained at JFK, had worked on behalf of the U.S. in Iraq for 10 years and the other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to join his wife and young son who live in Houston.
Darweesh and his family were granted special immigrant visas, according to the lawsuit. Between 2003 and 2013, he worked for the U.S. military and two U.S. government projects. Because of his association with the U.S. Armed Forces, the lawsuit states he was directly targeted twice. To obtain the special immigrant visa, Darweesh had to obtain a Chief of Mission approval from the embassy, a lengthy process that determines whether the applicant provided a “faithful and valuable service to the United States.”
After receiving COM approval in January 2015, he and his family were granted the visas on Jan. 25, 2017. The suit states that they immediately boarded a flight to the U.S. because of the sensitive and dangerous nature of Darweesh’s situation.
Darweesh was later released from detention. Photos posted to Twitter by New York representatives Jerry Nadler and Lydia Velazquez showed Darweesh standing with the two representatives past the passport control and customs section of the airport.
At a press conference outside the airport, Darweesh thanked those who supported him.
“This is the humanity, this is the soul of America,” he said.
“I’m very happy, really I forget what all I faced, whatever happened to me.”
Asked by a reporter what he thought of America, Darweesh replied that “America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world.”
Darweesh worked as an interpreter for Brandon Friedman, who posted a photo of the two from 2003.
The second man, Alshawi, had been given a Follow to Join Visa to be with his wife and young son. His wife worked as an accountant for a U.S. contractor in 2006, as did her brother, which made them a target for insurgents, according to the lawsuit. She applied for refugee status for her and her son in 2011 and the two currently live in the country as lawful permanent residents.
Alshawi’s wife, who identified herself as D to the New York Times, said their 7-year-old son did not know that his father was coming home.
“It was a surprise for him,” she told the Times.
New York representatives Nydia Velazquez and Jerry Nadler, went to the airport to help those being detained. Velazquez says she was told by CBP agents that they are waiting for direction from the Department of Homeland Security to act. A protest at JFK Saturday targeted the detention.
Chants of “hey hey JFK, no more fascist USA,” and “no hate, no hear, Muslims are welcome here,” could be heard coming from the crowd. Around 300 people were gathered across the street from Terminal 4 at JFK near the arrivals area and the number was swelling.
Speaking at the protest, Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, said in addition to Alshawi there were 10 others being detained at JFK but the organization was unable to take legal action on their behalf because their names had not been released. She called on CBP to release the names.
The lawsuit filed Saturday was the first of what is expected to be several legal challenges to Trump’s executive order. The Council of Islamic Relations said on Friday that it would hold a news conference on Monday announcing the filing of a federal lawsuit on behalf of more than 20 individuals challenging the order.
John Santore, Marc Torrence, Simone Wilson, Alison Bauter, Jonah Meadows, and Colin Miner contributed reporting.