BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — A federal judge issued an order Saturday night to protect refugees trapped at U.S. airports from being deported by blocking President Trump’s executive barring refugees from entering the United States. It took just 28 hours for Trump’s brazen executive order to be challenged in court and enjoined.
Trump signed an order at 4:42 p.m. Friday barring refugee admissions and visas for people from what he called seven “high-risk” countries whose dominant religions are Muslim, and barring Syrian refugees indefinitely. The seven other countries are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
The Department of Homeland Security said the order also barred legal permanent residents, also known as green card holders, from those seven countries from re-entering the United States, unless allowed on a case-by-case basis.
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, Yale Law School and other groups sued Saturday morning in Brooklyn on behalf of two Iraqis with refugee visas who had been arrested Friday on arrival at JFK International Airport.
Lead plaintiff Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a husband and father of three, had been granted a special immigrant visa on Jan. 20, Election Day, “as a result of his service to the United States as an interpreter, engineer and contractor,” according to his lawsuit. He worked for the United States for more than a decade in Iraq. Officials released Darweesh from Kennedy Airport in Queens on Saturday night after U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly enjoined enforcement of Trump’s executive order.
Co-plaintiff Haider Alshawi had been granted a follow-to-join visa on Jan. 11, to join his wife and son, who already had been “granted refugee status due to their family’s association with the United States military,” according to the complaint. Like Darweesh, Alshawi was arrested at JFK, en route to Houston, and was released after Judge Donnelly signed the order.
The ACLU says Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol had the men arrested and detained them at JKF airport, despite their possession of entry documents, “solely pursuant to an executive order issued on January 27, 2017.
The National Immigration Law Center, the International Refugee Assistance Project, and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton are among the groups that signed onto the 20-page class action.
They say the executive order violates the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Fifth Amendment, the right to apply for asylum under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
Judge Donnelly restrained and enjoined the defendants from enforcing the executive order just before 9 p.m. Saturday. By then a crowd of hundreds had gathered outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, and hundreds more at JFK airport to protest Trump’s order. Protesters across the country assembled at O’Hare, Dulles and other airports where immigrants were being detained.
Donnelly wrote in a 3-page-order that “there is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations subject to the January 27, 2017 Executive Order.”
“The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioner and others similarly situated violates their rights to Due Process and Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” she added.
Donnelly ordered that the government agencies be “enjoined and restrained from, in any manner or by any means, removing individuals with refugee applications approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen legally authorized to enter the United States.”
The judge ordered U.S. marshals from the Eastern District of New York “to take those actions deemed necessary to enforce the provisions and prohibitions set forth in this order.”
Though Donnelly’s order apparently protects from deportation refugees already here, such as Darweesh and Alshawi, it does not specifically order them, or others, freed from detention.
Donnelly’s order does, however, appear to set up the possibility of a standoff between federal law-enforcement agencies — the U.S. Marshals Service, Homeland Security, and Customs and Border Protection — should Trump refuse to accept the judge’s order.
Nor does Donnelly’s order appear to affect the cases of refugees who have been granted refugee status and U.S. visas, but have not yet entered the United States or U.S. airspace.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Donnelly signed the order after ACLU attorneys told her in court that one person detained at a U.S. airport “was being put on a plane to be deported back to Syria at that very moment.”
The Times story continued: “A government lawyer, Gisela A. Westwater, who spoke to the court by phone from Washington, said she simply did not know.”
Minutes later, the Times reported, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in the Eastern District of Virginia, issued a temporary restraining order good for a week to stop the “removal” of green card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The Times and other news wires reported Saturday and early Sunday that refugees and legal permanent residents were being arrested and detained at airports all over the country. Many were university students and graduate students returning to classes at prestigious U.S. universities, including, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and M.I.T. In addition to the protests at U.S. airports, several countries have denounced Trump’s executive order.
Citing Homeland Security officials, the Times reported Sunday morning that 109 people who were in the air when Trump signed the order have been barred from entering the country, and another 173 were prevented from boarding planes bound for the United States. Eighty-one of those 173 were given unspecified “waivers” to enter the country, according to the Times.
Even before the first lawsuits were filed, attorneys across the nation called the executive order unconstitutional, due to its targeting members of a specific religion, and pointed out that it violated the Refugee Act of 1980, which in fact describes a refugee as someone with a well-founded fear persecution for being a member of a specific race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion. Trump’s order specifically bars refugees for two of those criteria — religion and nationality.
Upon signing the order, Trump said he would give preference to “Christian” refugees, even those from the barred countries.
He also said in signing the order: “We will never forget the lessons of 9/11, nor the heroes that lost their lives at the Pentagon.”
Despite the reference to 9/11, none of the 19 hijackers came from any of the seven countries Trump singled out. Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. None of those countries are affected by the refugee ban.
No refugee has committed a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 1975.
Trump had a flurry of Twitter actvity this weekend amid the protests.
“If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week,” the president said Monday morning. “A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!”
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero meanwhile noted that the court’s stay is just the beginning of Trump’s defeat. “On week one, Donald Trump suffered his first loss in court,” Romero noted.
“Clearly the judge understood the possibility for irreparable harm to hundreds of immigrants and lawfl visitors to this country,” added ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, argued the matter before the judge.
“This ruling preserves the status quo and ensures that people who have been granted permission to be in this country are not illegally removed off U.S. soil,” Gelernt said.