By Maria Sacchetti and Milton J. Valencia
February 1, 2017
After federal judges in Boston and other cities halted President Trump’s travel ban, immigrants around the world rushed to airline ticket counters to book flights to the United States, only to be rejected.
On Wednesday, they finally discovered why: A State Department memo had revoked their visas Friday, the same day that Trump issued his order barring immigrants from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from the United States for 90 days.
The previously undisclosed memo was filed by lawyers for the US government in a federal lawsuit in Boston challenging the ban.
Some 721 visa holders from the affected countries were denied boarding during the three days after Trump’s order went into effect, federal officials said.
“It’s unprecedented, it’s astonishing, and it’s outrageous,” said Susan Church, one of the lawyers working with the ACLU and others who filed the suit on behalf of immigrants. “For Donald Trump to rule by secret memo at this point in time, it seriously makes me fear for what else is going to happen.”
President Trump ordered a crackdown on immigration into the United States on Friday.
Two judges in the case issued a seven-day restraining order against Trump’s directive Sunday, sparking celebrations. But lawyers who had filed the suit said they did not know that the visas had already been revoked, under the now-public State Department memo.
Lawyers said they expect to seek a new restraining order based on a federal court ruling Tuesday in Los Angeles that barred the Trump administration from revoking the visas of people from the seven countries, among other provisions. A hearing in theBoston case is scheduled for Friday, and lawyers said they will raise concerns about the memo then.
On Wednesday, a State Department official said the department revoked the visas at the request of the Department of Homeland Security after Trump’s order to ban people from the seven nations for 90 days. Visa holders from those countries who are already in the United States are not affected, and the ban does not apply to people with diplomatic visas.
Also Wednesday, the inspector general at Homeland Security announced it will review Homeland Security’s implementation of the president’s executive order.
The inspector general plans to “review DHS’ adherence to court orders and allegations of individual misconduct on the part of DHS personnel’’ and would consider “including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.’’
Trump’s executive order Friday affects a wide swath of people. The order also halted refugees worldwide from entering the United States for 120 days — with an exception for 872 people this week. The order also barred Syrian refugees indefinitely.
In the days since the order was issued, federal officials have sought to clarify who is affected by it and have said that some people from those countries will still be allowed into the country on waivers.
Green Card holders, for example, are not affected by the order, the White House said Wednesday. Iraqis who worked with the US military and government will also be allowed to enter the United States under a special visa program, according to the State Department.
Trump defended his order on Twitter Wednesday, a day after his Homeland Security secretary said it was “not, I repeat, not, a ban on Muslims.” During his campaign, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the order was a “temporary pause” to review the visa-vetting system. He said federal officials will analyze the current system over the next 30 days and then provide foreign countries 60 days to cooperate with the government’s national security requirements.
“This way we can ensure the system is doing what it is designed to do, which is protect the American people,” Kelly said Tuesday. “This analysis is long overdue and strongly supported by the Department’s career intelligence officials.”
In the court fight, the ACLU of Massachusetts and others argue that the president’s ban is unconstitutional and clearly discriminates against Muslims.
“In other words: if an executive order looks like a Muslim ban, acts like a Muslim ban, and has been talked about as a Muslim ban, then it’s probably a Muslim ban,” the ACLU argued in a filing Wednesday.
They and others filed the lawsuit late Saturday in Boston that led to the seven-day halt on Trump’s order — though it wasn’t clear until Wednesday that the court’s ruling did not have the weight the lawyers hoped it did.
In Massachusetts, Zara Rejaee, a US citizen originally from Iran who serves as a radiation control officer for the state Department of Public Health, said her 21-year-old cousin Arash Azari Matin had hoped to return to the United States based on the Boston ruling. After a semester at Los Angeles Pierce College, he went home for winter break to see his parents and has been blocked from returning. He has a student visa to attend the $26,000-a-year school.
After the Boston ruling, she said he tried to book a flight to Boston with multiple airlines but was told no.
“They said we’re not going to let anybody with an Iranian passport board the plane,” Rejaee said, meaning the airlines.
Samira Asgari, 30, said the same thing happened to her. An Iranian infectious disease scientist in Switzerland who had lawfully obtained a visa to conduct research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, she was twice prevented from boarding a flight, she said in a separate lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The Boston judges’ ruling in the ACLU suit prohibited federal officials from detaining or deporting immigrants and refugees with valid visas or green cards or forcing them to undergo extra security screenings based solely on Trump’s order. The judges also instructed Customs and Border Protection to notify airlines overseas that they were allowed to put immigrants on US-bound flights.
Lawyers who filed the lawsuit in Boston vowed to continue fighting in court. The initial lawsuit was filed on behalf of two University of Massachusetts Dartmouth professors, Mazdak Pourabdollah Tootkaboni and Arghavan Louhghalam, who were interrogated at Logan upon flying back into the country. The married couple are green card holders from Iran who were later released.
On Wednesday morning, the ACLU of Massachusetts named six more plaintiffs in that lawsuit, including five Iranian citizens and Oxfam America, an international aid organization based in Boston. Attorney General Maura Healey has also attempted to sign on to the ACLU suit.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs also filed an expanded complaint raising concerns that immigrants with visas to study or work in the United States are being prevented from coming into the country. The new complaint also says immigrants in the United States with visas are now unable to leave because they fear they will not be allowed to return.
The executive director of ACLU of Massachusetts also questioned the timing of the public release of the State Department memo.
“The ACLU of Massachusetts believes the timing and release of the Department of State’s memo is deeply suspicious — and raises more questions than it answers,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people protested at airports and in cities across the country. Trump also fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, for refusing to enforce Trump’s order. Her replacement ordered the Justice Department to defend it in court.
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