The government on Saturday suspended enforcement of President Donald Trump’s refugee and immigration ban and filed notice it would appeal a judge’s order, plunging the new administration into a crisis that has challenged Trump’s authority — and ability to fulfill campaign promises.
The stand-down, a day after a federal judge in Washington state temporarily blocked the ban, marked an extraordinary setback for the White House. Only a week ago, the president had acted to suspend America’s refugee program and halt immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries that the government said raise terrorism concerns.
As the White House worked to reinstate the ban, Trump mocked US District Judge James Robart, appointed by President George W. Bush, as a “so-called judge” whose “ridiculous” ruling “will be overturned.” He added in a subsequent tweet: “Because the ban was lifted by a judge, many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country. A terrible decision.”
The Homeland Security Department no longer was directing airlines to prevent visa-holders affected by Trump’s order from boarding U.S.-bound planes. The agency said it had “suspended any and all actions” related to putting in place Trump’s order, which the White House argued was “intended to protect the homeland.”
The Justice Department was expected to ask the 9th Circuit to set side Robart’s ruling so the ban could go back into effect.
Trump made clear what he thought of Robart’s action.
“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned,” Trump tweeted. “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!”
After a pause of several hours, the president returned to Twitter: “What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized Trump for “attempting to bully and disparage yet another federal judge” and said he seemed “intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis.” Trump’s rhetoric also could put government lawyers defending his order in a tough spot.
“Either they have to defend the statements that Judge Robart is a ‘so-called judge,’ which you can’t do, or they have to distance themselves from the president, who is their boss,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor Arthur Hellman.
With legal challenges pending, two prominent Middle Eastern air carriers announced they would resume carrying passengers from the seven affected countries. Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, said U.S.-bound travelers from those countries with valid visas would be allowed to board.
In Egypt, Cairo airport and airline officials said they have received instructions from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to suspend President Trump’s executive order.
Government-backed Qatar Airways is one of a few Mideast airlines operating direct daily flights to multiple American cities. Its U.S. destinations from its Doha hub include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington.
At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, volunteer lawyer Renee Paradis said most of the flights involving passengers from the affected countries were to arrive later Saturday.
“Anybody who comes here on a visa is supposed to be allowed in, so we would anticipate that somebody who is in the air would be able to land and enter,” she said. “Of course, as with everything this week, it remains to be seen what happens on the ground.”
Lawful and appropriate
Friday, the White House pledged to fight back after a federal judge in Seattle ordered a temporary nationwide halt to President Donald Trump's controversial ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Press secretary Sean Spicer called Trump's executive action "lawful and appropriate" and said the Department of Justice would request an emergency stay of the federal court order "at the earliest possible time."
"The president's order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people," he added.
The original statement from Spicer called the federal court ruling "outrageous," but an updated version removed that word.
A federal judge in Seattle on Friday ordered a temporary, nationwide halt to Trump's ban.
The temporary restraining order issued by US District Judge James Robart will remain valid nationwide pending a full review of a complaint by Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson.
Federal judges in several other states have also acted against the ban since it came into effect last Friday but Robart's ruling is the furthest reaching order so far.
It came after Ferguson filed a suit to invalidate key provisions of Trump's executive order which bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entry into the US for 90 days. Refugees from countries other than Syria are barred from entry for 120 days.
"The constitution prevailed today," Ferguson said after the ruling. "No one is above the law -- not even the president."
Washington Governor Jay Inslee welcomed the decision as a "tremendous victory" but warned that the battle to overturn Trump's executive order was not over.
"There is still more to do," he said in a statement. "The fight isn't yet won. But we should feel heartened by today's victory and more resolute than ever that we are fighting on the right side of history."
Ferguson argued in his complaint that the president's ban violated the constitutional rights of immigrants and their families as it specifically targets Muslims.
However attorneys representing the Trump administration argued that as president, he had broad powers and was within his right to issue an order that protects Americans.
Similar legal challenges against the ban have been made in several other states, including California, New York and Washington.
With AP, Reuters