After court orders on travel ban, advocates keep close watch on airports

Liz Goodwin
Senior National Affairs Reporter

After a patchwork of rulings temporarily scaled back President Trump’s ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries over the weekend, advocates and lawyers are struggling to determine how many people with visas or green cards are now being detained at airports or are stranded abroad.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told Yahoo News the Customs and Border Patrol had “processed” all individuals who were “initially affected by the order at airports around the country” as of Sunday night. But she said she wasn’t sure if additional people were detained after arriving Monday morning.

Advocates and lawyers are also unsure and keeping close watch on U.S. airports as the lawsuits wind their way through the courts. On Monday evening, Trump fired his acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she announced she would not defend Trump’s executive order, which she called unlawful. Trump’s attorney general nominee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has not yet been confirmed.

“We’re trying to confirm that it is in fact the case that no one is being held in a New York airport,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Sunday demanding it release a list of names of all who were held at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Advocates aren’t sure how many people from the seven banned countries who have visas to come to the United States are currently stranded abroad. The ban is set to last 90 days, with the entire U.S. refugee program suspended for 120 days.

“We don’t know how many people there are that still need to come home,” said Clare Kane, who is tracking these cases for the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School. “I guess nobody really knows.”

The president’s executive order reportedly took the Department of Homeland Security by surprise, contributing to chaotic airport scenes over the weekend as customs officers detained and, in some cases, deported people with visas to enter the country, as well as U.S. green card holders.

Four federal judges also issued rulings over the weekend temporarily scaling back Trump’s order until the courts could consider the claims of the plaintiffs. But each ruling was fairly limited in scope, meaning much of the ban remains in place. A federal judge in Brooklyn ordered that only people who were in transit when the ban came into effect Friday could not be deported. Another federal judge in Boston ruled that travelers coming into Logan International Airport could not be subject to the new travel ban at all — but her decision applies only to that airport. And a judge in Virginia’s decision staying the executive order only extended to green card holders from the seven countries. Another decision in Seattle applied to just two specific plaintiffs.

Homeland Security announced Sunday night that green card holders from the seven countries would be allowed to enter if they passed screening, significantly scaling back the original interpretation. At least 500,000 people received green cards from the seven banned countries in the past 10 years.

Advocates are still keeping a close eye on U.S. airports, but they suspect much of the order’s impact will now take place abroad.

Elizabeth Foydel, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said she has heard reports of U.S. green card holders and visitors with visas to enter the United States being removed from boarding at international airports. Because of the Boston federal judge’s order, people with valid visas to travel to the United States should still be allowed to board flights to Logan Airport at this time, even if they fall under the president’s ban.

“It’s a concern that that’s a government workaround,” Foydel said. “If you prevent these people from getting on a plane in the first place, they won’t be detained at an airport.”

On Sunday night, the Department of Homeland Security stressed that the executive orders “remain in place — 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.”

But the department also said it was complying with the court orders.

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