Wall Street Journal
By Miriam Jordan, Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson
January 30, 2017
President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries as his plan to tighten national security spawned legal challenges, congressional criticism, widespread protests and confusion at airports across the country and around the world.
The order, issued Friday, fulfilled a campaign pledge by Mr. Trump to clamp down on immigration from countries affected by terrorism. He suspended the U.S. refugee program for four months and banned for 90 days entry into the U.S. of nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
What followed was immediate detention of many arrivals at America’s major international airports, and even some deportations back to nations of origin. Late Saturday, a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., issued a temporary injunction that blocked the deportation of those detained, but the judge stopped short of allowing them into the country and didn’t rule on the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s measures.
Other judicial decisions called into question enforcement of other parts of the order, prompting what is likely to be a long legal review.
Meantime, clearing up one of the points of confusion, the new Department of Homeland Security chief said late Sunday that the order wouldn’t affect holders of so-called green cards, or legal permanent residents, after the agency had said it did.
The result was uneven enforcement. Scientists, athletes, airline crews and immigrants were detained for hours, denied lawyers and in some cases returned to the countries they had left. Across the country, the court order blocking removals hasn’t been honored in a consistent way, according to attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The orders prompted massive protests Saturday and Sunday at airports in New York, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and near Washington, D.C., where some travelers remained in detention Sunday afternoon.
At Los Angeles International Airport, large crowds gathered to demand the release of travelers held there, including two grandmothers from Iraq and Iran who refused to board flights back to their home countries, according to immigrant-rights lawyers. Late Sunday afternoon, airport officials in Los Angeles closed the roads around the arrivals area because of the protests.
Attorneys seeking to help potential detainees at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, said it wasn’t clear whether federal customs officials were complying with court orders. They were refusing to give information about any potential passengers detained, the attorneys said. From conversations with families at the airport, the attorneys believed there were about 50 or 60 people potentially being detained under the executive order.
Justin Dillon, a Washington attorney working pro-bono at the airport to represent any potential detainees, said that Customs and Border Patrol officials were refusing to tell attorneys on the ground, as well as four congressmen, whether there were any lawful permanent residents being detained under the executive order.
Sirine Shebaya, another attorney who spent the weekend at Dulles, said that customs officials were in violation of a Virginia judge’s ruling because they were not giving lawful permanent residents access to attorneys.
The Trump executive order states that while the moratorium is in place, the U.S. can admit individuals on a case-by-case basis. It makes no mention of specific religions but says the government would continue to process requests from individuals claiming religious persecution, “provided that the religion is a minority religion in the individual’s country.” That suggests the U.S. would admit Christians from Muslim-majority countries.
Yet at least one Christian family from Syria with approval to immigrate was turned away in Philadelphia over the weekend, family members and local officials said. Ghassan Assali, a Syrian dentist in Allentown, Pa., filed a petition 13 years ago to sponsor two brothers and their families who were living in Damascus. But en route to the airport, he received a call from a U.S. official informing him the family had been barred from entering the country and would be returning to Qatar, their point of departure. “It’s a nightmare,” Mr. Assali said.
While he was running for president late in 2015, Mr. Trump had called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S., before later moving off that blanket promise.
At least a dozen GOP senators raised some measure of concern by Sunday. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s order “may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” by alienating U.S. allies in the Muslim world.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, tried to express support for Mr. Trump’s national-security goals while raising questions about his tactics.
“We need to be careful; we don’t have religious tests in this country,” Mr. McConnell said on ABC. The top Senate Republican demurred when asked whether he supported Mr. Trump’s policy, saying that courts would decide “whether or not this has gone too far.”
Mr. Trump responded Sunday afternoon, writing on Twitter that Sens. McCain and Graham were “sadly weak on immigration” and “should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”
In a statement on Facebook Sunday night, Mr. Trump said the “seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion—this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
Over the weekend, federal judges in three states issued separate rulings that blocked the deportation of those detained at airports. But the rulings differed. The Brooklyn judge issued a nationwide injunction on deportations but stopped short of allowing the travelers into the country and didn’t address the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s measures. A Boston judge said officials at Logan International Airport could not detain those with valid visas. That prompted lawyers to advise green-card holders to reroute their trips so they enter the U.S. in Boston.
By Sunday night, after nearly two full days of implementation, the extent and limits of the policy—which continued to morph through legal challenges and White House statements—were still unclear.
A senior Homeland Security official said Saturday that in the first 23 hours the order was in effect, 375 people had been detained on arrival in the U.S., prevented from boarding flights at their overseas point of departure or intercepted while en route to the U.S.
Critics, including David Leopold, past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the hasty rollout of the measures had prevented both U.S. authorities and U.S.-bound travelers from adequately preparing.
Beyond new immigrants and refugees, those detained over the weekend also included green-card holders, students and employees of many U.S. companies and universities.
Green-card holder Pouyan Mashayekh, a researcher at a financial firm in New York, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 10 p.m. Friday after a weeklong business trip in London and was met at the gate by polite immigration officials.
He soon joined a group of several other detainees, including several Iraqis and a young Sudanese-American woman. All except him were handcuffed, he said. Lawyers for Mr. Mashayekh, who first came to the U.S. from Iran in 1994 to study for a doctorate in economics, arrived and secured his release at 3 a.m.
“I was unhappy and very tired,” he said. “But you know, I was so numb, so I was very calm.” Mr. Mashayekh eventually returned to his home in a Trump Plaza condominium apartment in Jersey City, N.J.
Immigration lawyers Sunday said border agents at a handful of airports around the country weren’t complying with the order, and that some refugees could still face deportation, including at Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.
Elnaz Ghotbi Ravandi, a doctoral student in biology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport early on Saturday morning to meet her parents and sister flying in from Iran for their first family reunion in more than two years.
Her relatives were detained for over 30 hours at the airport and barred from speaking with Ms. Ravandi. “I was feeling very bad—I felt like I’m not welcome in this country,” she said.
But Sunday afternoon, a security escort brought her to a building nearby the airport, where Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings awaited her with her family members, all holding white bouquets.
Timing was key as the doors to the U.S. shut, then were pried opened again: NBA Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker, once a refugee from Sudan, scored a career high in a game against the Toronto Raptors Friday night in Canada—and made it back across the border into the U.S. without incident just hours after Mr. Trump signed the order.
But a 27-year-old Sudanese internal medical resident at the Cleveland Clinic, Suha Abushamma, was detained on arrival at Kennedy Airport Saturday morning, then put on a plane back to her point of origin in Saudi Arabia 20 minutes before the judge’s emergency ruling was issued, according to a colleague and friend.
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