President Donald Trump’s executive order signed last Friday halting the US refugee program and banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries has led to chaos at airports, legal challenges, protests across the country, and worldwide condemnation. It has even led to former President Barack Obama weighing in, warning that “American values are at stake.”
The travel ban was immediately challenged in courts, and on Saturday night, a federal judge granted an emergency stay for citizens of the affected countries who had already arrived in the US as well as those in transit and who hold valid visas, ruling that they were allowed to enter the US. The federal judge in the Eastern District of New York ruled on a habeas corpus petition filed by the ACLU on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, who were both denied entry and detained after landing at JFK airport. Darweesh worked in Iraq as an interpreter and engineer for the US military for ten years and had been granted a visa after extensive background checks. Alshawi had been granted a visa to join his wife and son who are already permanent US residents.
The executive order affected numerous travelers and refugees, many who had waited years and undergone extensive vetting to come to the US. The order also affected a grandmother visiting her family in the US, an Iranian medical researcher, and an MIT student, among many others. A second temporary stay, more broad than the New York order, was also issued by two federal judges in Boston on Sunday. Their ruling puts a seven-day hold on enforcement of Trump's executive order, and states that no approved refugee, holder of a valid visa, lawful permanent resident or traveler from one of the seven majority-Muslim nations affected by the ban can be detained or removed anywhere in the US for the next seven days due solely to Trump's executive order.
On Monday, acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, ordered the Justice Department not to defend President Trump’s executive order in court. “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.” Although this decision was mainly symbolic—she was immediately fired by President Trump and Dana J. Boente, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who was appointed to serve as attorney general until Congress acts to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions, rescinded her order—it illustrates the divide at the Justice Department as well as the haphazard nature in which the executive order was signed. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security were only permitted to view the order on Friday.
As demonstrations, legal challenges, and criticism mount—including from the business community—the White House continues to defend the order, insisting that only 109 travellers—a figure that is not entirely accurate—had been “inconvenienced” over the weekend. Within the State Department, a draft memo circulated around foreign missions strongly opposed to Trump’s executive order. “We are better than this ban,” the memo says, arguing that the ban will backfire and make the US less safe from terrorism. The draft memo states: “A policy which closes our doors to over 200 million legitimate travelers in the hopes of preventing a small number of travelers who intend to harm Americans from using the visa system to enter the United States will not achieve its aim of making our country safer. Moreover, such a policy runs counter to core American values of nondiscrimination, fair play and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants.”
After a weekend of confusion, the Department of Homeland Security is now saying that the order does not apply to lawful permanent residents noting that the “entry of lawful permanent residents is in the national interest. Accordingly, absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reported on Sunday night that he had received assurances from the White House that the “Muslim ban” would only apply to UK dual nationals traveling from the listed countries directly to the US; however, the US Embassy in London contradicted this claim noting that no visas would be issued to any dual nationals of the countries listed under the “Muslim ban,” though this page has since been taken down.
"It's working out very nicely," President Trump told reporters Saturday. "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." Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, strongly disagrees, telling CNN. "This order contravenes the principles of religious liberty, equality, and compassion that our nation was founded upon in its discriminatory impact of Muslims. It also plays into the Al Qaeda and ISIS narrative that the West is no place for Muslims and that we are engaged in a war of civilizations."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the attorney general of Washington State each filed lawsuits on Monday against President Trump’s executive order, calling it an “an unconstitutional religious test.” We will provide additional updates as we receive them.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 4, 2017: A judge in Seattle ordered a nationwide halt on Friday to the travel ban after a Boston court refused to extend a stay. The ruling from the Seattle judge, James Robart of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington, an appointee of President George W. Bush, is the most far-reaching ruling to date, though courts around the country have stayed certain aspects of President Trump's travel ban.
The federal government was “arguing that we have to protect the US from individuals from these countries, and there’s no support for that,” Judge Robart said in his decision. The judge's temporary ruling bars the administration from enforcing two parts of President Trump’s order: the ninety-day suspension of entry into the US of individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—and the order's limits on accepting refugees, including “any action that prioritizes the refugee claims of certain religious minorities.”
Initially calling the ruling "outrageous," the White House late Friday issued a revised statement saying it would seek an emergency halt to the judge’s stay to restore the president’s “lawful and appropriate" order. Earlier this week the State Department said 60,000 visas had been revoked. A State Department official tells CNN that the department has "reversed the cancellation of visas that were provisionally revoked following the Trump administration's travel ban—so long as those visas were not stamped or marked as canceled." The Department of Homeland Security also said Saturday it has suspended actions to implement President Trump's executive immigration order. Nationals of the affected seven-Muslim majority countries who intend on traveling outside the US or to the US should consult an experienced immigration attorney. We will continue to provide updates as we receive them.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 15, 2017: A federal judge in Virginia granted a preliminary injunction barring the Trump administration from implementing its travel ban in Virginia, adding another judicial ruling to the previously existing ones challenging the ban's constitutionality. This particular ruling is significant because US District Judge Leonie Brinkema found that since an unconstitutional religious bias is at the root of the travel ban, it violates First Amendment prohibitions on favoring one religion over another.
In her twenty-two-page ruling, Brinkema writes that the "president himself acknowledged the conceptual link between a Muslim ban and the EO (executive order)." She further notes that the president's executive authority is nevertheless limited by the Constitution. "Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress' delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including Bill of Rights." A Justice Department spokeswoman did not return an email to the AP seeking comment about the ruling, although President Trump has indicated that he may issue a new executive order to replace the one being challenged in court.