The Trump administration showed no sign Sunday of backing down from an executive order that bans entry to the United States from refugees, migrants and even green-card holders from seven mostly Muslim countries — even as lawmakers from both parties spoke out against the action and federal judges ruled against parts of it.
Judicial rulings in several cities across the country overnight immediately blocked enforcement of the ban to various degrees, but the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement early Sunday indicating it would continue to implement President Trump’s action.
The statement, which did little to clear up the confusion and frustration playing out at airports across the globe, said the administration “will comply with judicial orders” even as it continues to carry out the president’s order.
“Prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety,” the statement said. “No foreign national in a foreign land, without ties to the United States, has any unfettered right to demand entry into the United States or to demand immigration benefits in the United States.”
The virtually unprecedented action applies to migrants, refugees and U.S. legal residents — green-card holders — from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen. People subject to being denied entry include dual nationals, who are those born in one of the seven countries who also hold passports from U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom.
Just after 8 a.m. Sunday, Trump tweeted: “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world — a horrible mess!”
Trump’s aggressive action triggered a wave of criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, but also from a growing number of lawmakers in his own party.
“You have an extreme vetting proposal that didn’t get the vetting it should have,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” even as he stopped short of opposing the order outright.
Portman said that he supports the rulings by several federal judges staying the part of the order that affects legal permanent residents and visa holders and prevents them from entering the country.
Portman’s concerns echoed those expressed by some other Republicans, including Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who on Saturday called the president’s order “ridiculous.”
“I guess I understand what his intention is, but unfortunately the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration,” Dent said. “You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”
But Republican leaders in Congress on Sunday did not join the opposition to Trump’s order.
“I don’t want to criticize them for improving vetting,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.” He cautioned that the United States doesn’t have a religious test for entry into the country, and stopped short of saying that Trump’s action amounted to a Muslim ban.
“I think we need to be careful,” McConnell said. “We don’t have religious tests in this country.”
Senior administration officials on Sunday defended Trump’s ban after a weekend of intense backlash over the broadness of the executive order.
Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, appeared to pull back one of the most controversial elements of the order — its impact on green-card holders, who are permanent legal residents of the United States.
“As far as green-card holders going forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Priebus said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.” He did not elaborate on the change. Department of Homeland Security officials said Saturday that the order would affect green-card holders and other holders of legal visas for the United States, and a senior administration official also told reporters Saturday that green-card holders would need a case-by-case waiver to reenter the country.
Other aides sought to play down the impact of the order.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, noted that the order only affected a small percentage of travelers, and she emphasized that it is temporary.
“I think in terms of the upside being greater protection of our borders, our people, it’s a small price to pay,” Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.” “If there is no further threat, if they are not dangerous to the country, they can expect to be released in due course.”
The Department of Homeland Security noted that “less than one percent” of international air travelers arriving Saturday in the United States were “inconvenienced” by the executive order — though the situation described by lawyers and immigrant advocates across the country Saturday was one of widespread uncertainty and even chaos at airports where travelers from the targeted countries were suddenly detained.
Federal judges began stepping in late Saturday as requests for stays of President Trump’s action flooded courtrooms from coast to coast.
Late Saturday, a federal judge in New York temporarily blocked deportations nationwide. Her ruling was followed by similar decisions by federal judges in Virginia, Seattle and Boston.
In Brooklyn, Judge Ann Donnelly of the U.S. District Court granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the deportations after determining that the risk of injury to those detained by being returned to their home countries necessitated the decision.
Next came a temporary restraining order by District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, who blocked for seven days the removal of any green-card holders detained at Dulles International Airport. Brinkema’s action also ordered that lawyers have access to those held there because of the ban.
In Seattle, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas S. Zilly granted an emergency stay preventing the deportation of two people had been detained at the Sea-Tac International Airport, according to the ACLU of Washington, which joined other advocates in filing an emergency motion. The two people remain in federal custody and will have a hearing later this week, the group said.
Just before 2 a.m. Sunday in Boston, two federal judges ruled for two University of Massachusetts Dartmouth associate professors — Iranian nationals who are permanent legal residents in the United States — who were held at Logan International Airport when they landed after travel for an academic conference.
The judges there also put a seven-day restraining order on Trump’s executive action. It allows any approved refugee, visa holder, or green-card holder to fly into Boston over the next 7 days and requires Customs and Border Protection to notify airlines that fly into Logan Airport that those passengers will not be detained or forced to return. The ruling applies only to Massachusetts.
The president’s order triggered harsh reactions Saturday from not only Democrats and others who typically advocate for immigrants but also key sectors of the U.S. business community. Leading technology companies recalled scores of overseas employees and sharply criticized the president. Legal experts forecast a wave of litigation over the order, calling it unconstitutional. Lawyers and advocates for immigrants are advising them to seek asylum in Canada.
Yet Trump, who centered his campaign in part on his vow to crack down on illegal immigrants and impose what became known as his “Muslim ban,’’ was unbowed. As White House officials insisted that the measure strengthens national security, the president stood squarely behind it.
“It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared,” Trump told reporters Saturday in the Oval Office. “You see it at the airports, you see it all over. It’s working out very nicely, and we’re going to have a very, very strict ban, and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”
In New York, Donnelly seemed to have little patience for the government’s arguments, which focused heavily on the fact that the two defendants named in the lawsuit had already been released.
Donnelly noted that those detained were suffering mostly from the bad fortune of traveling while the ban went into effect. “Our own government presumably approved their entry to the country,” she said at one point, noting that, had it been two days earlier, those detained would have been granted admission without question.
During the hearing, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt informed the court that he had received word of a deportation to Syria, scheduled within the hour. That prompted Donnelly to ask if the government could assure that the person would not suffer irreparable harm. Receiving no such assurance, she granted the stay to the broad group included in the ACLU’s request.
A senior Department of Homeland Security official said late Saturday that 109 people had been denied entry into the United States. All had been in transit when Trump signed the order, he said, and some had already departed the United States on flights by late Saturday while others were still being detained awaiting flights. Also, 173 people had not been allowed to board U.S.-bound planes at foreign airports.