After a day of chaos at airports around the world, a federal judge in Brooklyn on Saturday night stayed deportations under President Trump's executive order barring citizens of some Muslim countries from entering the United States.
U.S. District Judge Ann M. Donnelly ordered a halt to any removal of refugees or others who hold valid visas to enter the United States — meaning those who have arrived at U.S. airports from the seven predominantly Muslim countries named under the president's executive order can remain, for now.
The judge did not rule on the legality of the executive order, nor did she say that others who have not yet arrived in the U.S. can be allowed to proceed.
The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two Iraqis detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York: Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who was an interpreter for the U.S. military, and Haider Alshawi, who was on his way to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor in Iraq.
ACLU attorneys argued that returning either petitioner could cause "irreparable harm" by exposing them and their families to retaliation from extremists.
The two lead plaintiffs were held by authorities and threatened with deportation, even though both "assert a fear of returning to their countries, and if they are not admitted pursuant to their valid entry documents, [they] seek an opportunity to pursue asylum," the lawyers argued in the emergency petition.
"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 U.S. soil," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, who argued the case.
The executive order Trump signed Friday suspends all refugee entries for 120 days, blocks Syrian refugees indefinitely and bars for 90 days the entry of citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.
While the court did not take on the legal merits of that action, the judge's order said the Trump administration and its employees are "enjoined and restrained from the commission of further acts of and misconduct in violation of the Constitution."
"The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioner and others similarly situated violates their rights to Due Process and Equal Protection guaranteed under the United States Constitution," the court ruled.
Surrounded by a throng of cheering demonstrators, who had rushed from Kennedy airport to the Brooklyn courthouse, an exultant Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said, ``This was a remarkable day. What we've shown today is that the courts can work. They are a bulwark in our democracy when President Trump enacts laws or executive order that are unconstitutional and illegal.''
In a separate case, a federal judge in Virginia ruled preliminarily in favor of three legal permanent residents and at least 60 others detained under Trump's executive order at Dulles International Airport.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema late Saturday issued an order barring immigration officials for at least a week from deporting lawful permanent residents detained at Dulles, outside Washington. She also ordered immigration officials to allow lawyers access to those detainees.
The New York order appears to affect the 100 to 200 people who have been detained in transit to the United States. While the order will prevent them from being sent home, it is less clear whether they will have to remain in detention while their asylum cases are being decided.
Darweesh was released earlier Saturday.
Thousands of New Yorkers had rushed to Kennedy airport, which is located in Queens within the court's jurisdiction, earlier in the day to protest the detention of the passengers.
Karen Tumlin, Los Angeles-based legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said she was "incredibly relieved" by the stay.
She said lawyers were contacting federal immigration officials late Saturday to ensure the stay is enforced.
"There are people on planes at different airports to be removed, so we're trying to get the word out to Border Protection," Tumlin said, noting that the stay applies to everyone affected by the executive order. She said the judge specified from the bench that the stay is nationwide.
"That doesn't mean they have the ability to move freely in the United States," Tumlin said of those detained, although she said her group plans to argue that they should.
While Tumlin said access to counsel for all those affected by the executive order is a concern going forward, "my chief concern is that nobody is sent back where they can be harmed."
She said dozens were detained at JFK, at least 50 Iranians from one KLM flight were held at Los Angeles International Airport, and more than a dozen were held at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
"I would hope that this means they will all be safe," she said. "But we will have to be vigilant."