On Friday, a federal judge in the US state of Washington granted a nationwide stay on key provisions of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel to most nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The most far-reaching court order yet, the ruling by US District Judge James Robart in Seattle clears the way for tens of thousands of individuals stranded outside the United States to return.
“Judge Robart’s decision, effective immediately, effective now, puts a halt to President Trump’s unlawful, unconstitutional executive order,” the state of Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson told reporters:
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) February 4, 2017
Ferguson’s complaint sought to halt provisions in the executive order that bar refugees and those with visas from entering the country.
Judge Robart halted implementation of the 90-day suspension of entry to the US of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
He also suspended the 120-day ban on admitting any refugees and the indefinite ban on refugees from Syria. The judge specifically blocked prioritizing refugees of certain religious minorities, according to The New York Times.
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Saturday it was complying with the judge’s ruling:
JUST IN: DHS suspends "any and all actions implementing the affected sections" of Pres. Trump's immigration order following judge's order. pic.twitter.com/E4E47ioV6A
— ABC News (@ABC) February 4, 2017
Meanwhile, the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group, advised those stranded overseas and trying to return to make urgent travel plans that would put them back on US soil by Monday morning, as the window created by the court ruling could close without warning if the Trump administration successfully challenges it in court.
“If you intend to return to the country then it is best to make immediate travel plans with short layovers to arrive as quickly as possible,” the group said.
President Trump has reacted with fury to the court decision. In a series of tweets on Saturday he asserted that Robart’s ruling “takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned.” He also claimed that “certain Middle Eastern countries agree with the ban. They know if certain people are allowed in it’s death & destruction!”
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
In an alarming sign of contempt for the independence of the federal judiciary, the president derided Robart, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, as a “so-called judge.”
The White House had issued a press release immediately following the ruling, vowing to seek an emergency halt to the judge’s “outrageous” order. A later press release removed the term “outrageous.”
The ruling came after hearings for other lawsuits challenging the executive order took place in Virginia, New York and Boston, where lawyers continued to struggle to gain transparency and clarification on the order’s implementation.
The executive order signed on 27 January led to potentially hundreds of thousands of people being stranded abroad, unable to return to their homes in the United States. It also unilaterally halted all immigration proceedings for people from the seven listed countries.
Within hours of the Seattle federal court ruling, media reported that those people would be allowed to return home.
Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security agency that enforces border controls at the airports, reportedly called airlines to instruct them to allow persons affected by the order to board planes for the United States.
60,000 visas revoked
Last weekend, the Boston court issued what was the most expansive temporary restraining order against the executive order by prohibiting the detention or removal of anyone who had legal authorization to enter the US – including individuals from the seven barred countries.
As a result, the German airline Lufthansa announced it would allow people with valid US visas to travel to Boston.
But on Friday afternoon, a Boston judge decided not to extend the restraining order.
“The individual plaintiffs in this case provide particularly compelling examples of the value that immigrants add to our society,” Judge James Gorton wrote. “Conversely, the public interest in safety and security in this ever-more dangerous world is strong as well.”
But Gorton’s ruling was rendered moot by the ruling in Seattle, which immediately imposes an even more extensive nationwide stay on Trump’s executive order.
The rulings were made in the wake of revelations that a State Department memo “provisionally” revoked the visas of at least 60,000 people from the seven countries on the same day Trump signed the executive order.
The affected persons, including students who had traveled to their home countries for family visits, medical and academic personnel at US universities, tech workers and others who have lived in the United States for years, were given no prior warning.
That move went beyond Trump’s executive order by actually cancelling valid visas, as opposed to merely prohibiting entrance to the US, according to The New York Times.
Contempt of court
While it remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will fully comply with the court order, immediate steps by Customs and Border Protection signal more compliant federal agencies.
In Virginia, where the state has joined the lawsuit against Trump, the solicitor general, a state legal official, accused the federal agencies of being in contempt of court, submitting evidence that border officials refused to allow lawyers and members of Congress to meet with detained persons.
On Friday, the Virginia court extended its restraining order barring the deportation of legal permanent residents and ordered access for lawyers.
US District Judge Leonie Brinkema also ordered the federal government to provide by 9 February a full list of all Virginia residents who have been denied entry or deported as a result of the executive order.
In testimony submitted to the Virginia court on 2 February, the president of the College of William & Mary described the impact the executive order is having on colleges in Virginia.
President W. Taylor Reveley stated that at least 350 students and dozens of employees and faculty will be affected at just five of the state’s universities.
The president identified two students were are unable to return to complete their studies, one a Libyan national who had been traveling for family reasons and is now stranded in Turkey.
“It is imperative that the public learn if federal immigration officials are blatantly defying nationwide federal court orders that block President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban,” ACLU attorney Mitra Ebadolahi stated.
One of the most contested issues is whether the executive order applies to legal permanent residents, also known as green card holders. The government has flip-flopped on the policy, and has yet to amend the language in the executive order.
Since the executive order was signed on 27 January, inconsistent statements have been issued by various arms of the executive branch.
The executive order bars entry to “immigrants and nonimmigrants” of the seven listed countries. Under US official classifications, people on temporary visas – including international students, business travelers and certain specialized workers – are “nonimmigrants,” while legal permanent residents with green cards are “immigrants.”
ACLU lawyers in Boston said the executive order implies green card holders could still be affected by the travel ban, despite government statements to the contrary.
A statement released by Customs and Border Protection on 31 January has been edited to change its position on green card holders.
While it originally stated in the FAQ section that the executive order would affect legal permanent residents who were out of the country at the time the order was signed, it now says, “Under the recent guidance from the White House, we will continue to ensure that lawful permanent residents are processed through our borders efficiently.”
Under that guidance, the executive order “does not apply to LPRs’ [legal permanent residents’] entry to the United States,” the Customs and Border Protection website now explicitly states.
Journalists at a status hearing for the Boston case chronicled on Twitter oral arguments between the federal government and plaintiffs, which include the Massachusetts Attorney General and the ACLU of Massachusetts.
In court, the two sides clashed over whether the executive order as written applies to green card holders (LPRs).
As reported by media, White House officials had originally insisted over objections from Department of Homeland Security lawyers that the ban included green card holders.
There were then reports that green card holders were being detained, deported and denied boarding after the executive order was signed.
Last Sunday, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly announced that green card holders would be allowed entry.
But on Tuesday, Customs and Border Protection released its statement and FAQ saying green card holders would be affected by the travel ban. This statement has since been edited to make clear that green card holders are not affected by Trump’s executive order.
The US Government is also denying that the ban unfairly targets Muslims.
“They’re essentially reading this as a Muslim ban, because that’s what they want to see but there’s nothing in there that says Islam,’’ assistant US Attorney Joshua S. Press told Judge Nathaniel Gorton during Friday’s hearing in Boston.
Trump had campaigned on an explicit promise to implement a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
His campaign adviser Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, has told media that Trump turned to him to devise a way to implement such a Muslim ban “legally.”
It also emerged on Friday that a decade ago, Steve Bannon, the senior Trump adviser credited with being one of two key drafters of the executive order, had outlined a film project warning that the country could be taken over by “radical Muslims” and their “enablers among us” and turn into the “Islamic States of America.”
Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.
Ali Abunimah contributed research.
First published in The Electronic Intifada