US enforces travel ban amid protests
AP photoU.S. President Donald Trump’s order to restrict people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States sparked reaction and anger on Jan. 29 after immigrants and refugees were kept off flights and left stranded at airports.
In his most sweeping decision since taking office a week ago, Trump, a Republican, put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the U.S. and temporarily barred travelers from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the country.
Civil rights and faith groups, activists and Democratic politicians were furious and vowed to fight the order, while it also drew criticism from U.S. allies.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Trump that the global fight against terrorism was no excuse for banning refugees or people from Muslim-majority countries from entering the country, her spokesman said yesterday.
“She is convinced that even the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion,” spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
He said Merkel had expressed her concerns to Trump during a telephone call on Jan. 28.
Merkel also reminded Trump that the Geneva conventions required the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds, Seibert said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain did not agree with Trump’s curbs on immigration.
“We do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking. We are studying this new executive order to see what it means and what the legal effects are, and in particular what the consequences are for U.K. nationals,” May’s spokesman said.
Britain’s disapproval sharpened when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a tweet: “Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also criticized the ban.
“Regional issues cannot be solved by closing the doors on people,” he said. “We expect the Western world to lighten Turkey’s burden.”
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau also attacked the order, announcing that anyone “fleeing persecution, terror and war” would be welcomed in Canada “regardless of faith.”
Capping a day of confusion and chaos and protests in several U.S. airports across the country, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, granted a temporary reprieve. The American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued for a temporary stay that allowed detained travelers to stay in the U.S.
Supporters outside the Brooklyn courtroom and at protests at airports in Dallas, Chicago, New York and elsewhere cheered the decision, but a bigger fight lay ahead.
The court action does not reverse Trump’s order.
Trump, a businessman who successfully tapped into American fears about terror attacks during his campaign, had promised what he called “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees from areas the White House said the U.S. Congress deemed to be high risk.
He told reporters in the White House’s Oval Office on Jan. 28 that his order was “not a Muslim ban” and said the measures were long overdue.
“It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over,” Trump said.
The Department of Homeland Security said about 375 travelers had been affected by the order, 109 of whom were in transit and were denied entry to the United States. Another 173 were stopped by airlines before boarding.
The order “affects a minor portion of international travelers,” the department said in a statement, saying the measures “inconvenienced” less than 1 percent of travelers.
The new rules blindsided people in transit and families waiting for them, and caused havoc for businesses with employees holding passports from the targeted nations and colleges with international students.
Pegah Rahmani, 25, waited at Washington’s Dulles airport for several hours for her grandparents, both Iranian citizens with U.S. green cards. “They weren’t treating them very well,” she said.
Rahmani’s grandfather is 88 and legally blind. Her grandmother is 83 and recently had a stroke. They were released to loud cheers and cries.
‘Tip of the spear’
Several Democratic governors said they were examining whether they could launch legal challenges, and other groups eyed a constitutional challenge claiming religious discrimination.
“I don’t think anyone is going to take this lying down,” said Cleveland immigration lawyer David Leopold. “This is the tip of the spear and more litigation is coming.”
The Department of Homeland Security said the order would stay in place.
“No foreign national in a foreign land, without ties to the United States, has any unfettered right to demand entry into the United States,” the department statement said.
Mark Krikorian, the director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, called lawsuits challenging the order “last-ditch efforts” that would only apply to a few individuals, and he said a broader constitutional argument would be hard to win.
“The first amendment doesn’t apply to foreigners living abroad. The law explicitly says the president can exclude any person or class of people he wants,” Krikorian said.
Some leaders from the U.S. technology industry, a major employer of foreign workers, issued warnings to their staff and called the order immoral and un-American.
Arab travelers in the Middle East and North Africa said the order was humiliating and discriminatory. Iran vowed to retaliate.
Sudan called the action “very unfortunate” after Washington lifted sanctions on the country just weeks ago for cooperation on combating terrorism. A Yemeni official expressed dismay at the ban.
Iraq’s former ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, told Reuters that Trump’s ban was unfair to a country that itself has been a victim of terror attacks, and could backfire.
“We have a strong partnership with U.S., more so in the urgent fight against terrorism. This ban move will not help, and people will start questioning the bond of this partnership, Faily said.
Confusion abounded at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules.
Some legal residents with green cards who were in the air when the order was issued were detained at airports upon arrival.
However, senior administration officials said it would have been “reckless” to broadcast details of the order in advance.
Other officials said green card holders from the affected countries would require extra screening and would be cleared on a case-by-case basis.
Airlines were blindsided and some cabin crew were barred from entering the country.
Travelers were handled differently at different points of entry and immigration lawyers advised clients to change their destination to the more lenient airports, said Houston immigration lawyer Mana Yegani.
At Chicago O’Hare International Airport, brothers Bardia and Ayden Noohi waited for four hours for their father Kasra Noohi – who has an Iranian passport and a U.S. green card – to be allowed through.
They knew Trump had pledged tougher rules but did not expect the problems. “I didn’t think he’d actually do it,” said Bardia Noohi, 32. “A lot of politicians just talk.”
Thousands of refugees seeking entry were thrown into limbo. Melanie Nezer of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society said she knew of roughly 2,000 who were booked to come to the United States next week.
Trump’s order indefinitely bans refugees from Syria. In a television interview, he said he would seek to prioritize Christian refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not consulted on the action and in some cases only learned the details as they were made public.
At the State Department, a senior official said lawyers were working to interpret the executive order, which allows entry to people affected by the order when it is in the “national interest.”