A federal judge has blocked part of President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, ruling that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries who have already arrived in the US and those who are in transit and who hold valid visas, cannot be deported from the US.
“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 ruling said.
The court decision, made on Saturday night, halts President Donald Trump’s order barring citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the US for the next 90 days.
Trump had signed the executive order on Friday barring travellers from the mainly Muslim countries and suspending all new refugee arrivals to the US for four months. Syrian refugees were banned indefinitely until further notice.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had filed the class action lawsuit against the ban, hailed the temporary stay of execution as a victory.
“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 US soil,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said.
ACLU said it would help 100 to 200 people with valid visas or refugee status, who found themselves detained in transit or at US airports after Trump signed the order late on Friday.
The case, the first legal challenge to Trump’s controversial executive order, was filed after two Iraqis were detained by law enforcement officials at John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) while trying to legally enter the country.
The US denied entry to 109 travellers heading to the country at the time the ruling was signed, a Department of Homeland Security official said. The agency would not say how many of the 109 were sent already home and how many were detained.
“It’s been absolute chaos at airports across the country,” Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, told Al Jazeera. “It’s definitely not making America safe again, it’s just making America hate again.”
In Cairo a number of Iranians and a Yemeni were prevented from boarding a flight to New York on Saturday. Qatar Airways also advised US-bound passengers to only travel with a Green Card or diplomatic visa.
It later emerged that Green Card holders were also included in the ban on the seven Muslim-majority countries. This means that legal residents in the US, holding the passport of any of these nations, who travelled abroad could be prevented from returning home to their base in the US.
Human rights groups have condemned Trump’s executive order.
“At a time when we have a global refugee crisis, President Trump has bared all Syrian refugees and has put a hold on the resettlement of refugees in the United States. This executive order is staggering in its scope, deeply shocking and should be reversed immediately.” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues.
Trump has insisted his measure will protect Americans from Islamic terrorism.