Travel ban: US temporarily suspends order as Trump derides 'so-called' judge
- Federal agencies say they will comply with order and restore visas
- President says ruling ‘ridiculous’ and promises it will be overturned
- Iranian baby girl in need of heart surgery gets waiver to enter US
The Guardian Martin Pengelly and Edward Helmore in New York, Alan Yuhas in San Francisco 4 February 2017 12.55 EST
The federal government said on Saturday it will comply with a federal judge’s temporary halt on Donald Trump’s travel ban, restoring travel for refugees and for people from seven Muslim-majority countries, even as the president berated the judge personally on Twitter.
In a series of tweets early in the morning after Friday’s ruling by the Seattle judge James Robart, the president wrote: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
Trump also wrote: “When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot , come in & out, especially for reasons of safety &.security – big trouble!”
He added: “Interesting that certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban. They know if certain people are allowed in it’s death & destruction!”
But on Saturday morning the state department said it had reversed visa revocations, meaning that tens of thousands of people whose visas were not physically canceled after the issuing of the executive order last week may now travel freely. On Friday a justice department official said 100,000 visas had been revoked under the ban. State department figures put the number at 60,000.
On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would comply with Robart’s order.
“In accordance with the judge’s ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the executive order,” said acting press secretary Gillian Christensen. “DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure.”
Christensen also said the justice department intended to counter by filing an emergency stay of Trump’s order, calling it “lawful and appropriate”.
Trump’s executive order suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and from Syria indefinitely, and placed time-limited holds on the admission of travellers from seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. The White House and justice department have argued that the order is necessary for national security.
The order also provided for preference to people from religious minorities in those countries, and Trump said in an interview he would give Christians priority as refugees.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other parties quickly filed lawsuits around the question of whether the ban was unconstitutional as an infringement of religious freedom. A succession of rulings against the government followed.
Airport authorities nonetheless continued to hold or bar travellers from the affected countries last weekend, leading to charges that the Trump White House was seeking to disregard court rulings. Such charges may be repeated in light of Trump’s promise to “overturn” Robart’s opinion.
Robart, who was appointed by George W Bush, granted a temporary restraining order after hearing arguments from Washington state and Minnesota that the president’s order unlawfully discriminated against Muslims and caused unreasonable harm.
The White House said it would appeal against the order, which it first called “outrageous” before issuing an “updated” statement that did not feature that word.
“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.
Nonetheless, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) informed US airlines on Friday night that they should allow travellers from the affected countries with valid visas who had been barred under the order to board flights to the US.
The order has caused logistical and political chaos, as the roles of Trump’s senior aide Steve Bannon and policy chief Stephen Miller in its writing and rollout have come under intense scrutiny. Trump’s Republican party has backed the order, though some senior figures have opposed it or criticised its implementation.
On Friday, a federal judge in Massachusetts declined to extend a temporary stay against the order issued last week, after expressing scepticism about arguments that the ban represented religious discrimination.
But in Seattle, the attorney general of Washington state, Bob Ferguson, told reporters outside the courtroom: “We are a nation of laws. Not even the president can violate the constitution. No one is above the law, not even the president.
“This decision shuts down the executive order immediately – shuts it down. That relief is immediate, happens right now. That’s the bottom line.”
A group of volunteer lawyers, calling themselves Dulles Justice after their campaign to help travelers at Dulles airport in Virginia, hailed the decision on Saturday.
“For now, this should mean a safe return home for countless travelers from around the world, from Legal Permanent Residents to visa holders,” wrote attorney Hailly Korman. “And for refugees fleeing persecution or violence, it should mean we’ll be able to welcome them to this great country.
“The White House has already announced their intention to counter this order with a request for an emergency stay. We, too, have no intention of backing down.”
Chuck Schumer, the leader of Democrats in the Senate, castigated the president for his insults toward a federal judge. Trump’s tweets, Schumer said, show “a disdain for an independent judiciary that doesn’t always bend to his wishes and a continued lack of respect for the constitution”.
Republicans have increasingly disagreed over the ban. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has deferred to the courts over whether the order is lawful, while House Speaker Paul Ryan has defended Trump’s order. “This is not a Muslim ban. If it were, I would be against it,” Ryan told reporters this week.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have led a handful of dissenters in the party, noting that close US allies, including the king of Jordan, have warned that the ban will corrode otherwise good relations.
At Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday, human rights and attorneys were camped out at Terminal 4. Attorneys said they knew of one passenger, an Iranian student enrolled at Boston University, who was en route to the US.
Camille Mackler, of the New York Immigration Coalition, said uncertainty remained over how to recover valid visas and how many people would start arriving in the US.
“We’re tracking flights right now and working our lists,” she said, “but we’re still not clear if people who had their visas illegally cancelled will now have to re-apply or if their visas will be re-issued automatically.”
Mackler said her group was trying to get the message out to travelers affected by the ban that they could now enter the US.
- Additional reporting by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington