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Federal Courts Consider Legal Challenges To Trump's Immigration Ban


The State Department revoked the visas of tens of thousands of people from the seven mostly Muslim countries following last week's executive order from President Donald Trump, news that came to light today at a hearing in Virginia as federal courts start to consider legal challenges to the order. Meanwhile, protesters gathered across the country to show their solidarity with immigrants and refugees, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: There were some unusual guests at Friday prayers at the Masjid Muhammad Mosque in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Praying in foreign language).

ROSE: Mike Wilker is pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, which helped organize this event. Wilker says he came to show his support for refugees and recent immigrants.

MIKE WILKER: Jesus said, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. And President Trump's orders are in that regard anti-Christian. They're not following the words of Jesus Christ.

ROSE: Prayer services like this one were held across the country at mosques in Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami. At about the same time, judges in Massachusetts and Virginia were hearing some of the many legal challenges against the executive order. That order put the U.S. refugee program on hold. It also temporarily bans immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries.

The hearing in Virginia produced dramatic testimony from a lawyer for the Justice Department who said that more than a hundred thousand visas have been revoked since the order was issued last week. Attorney Paul Hughes represents the plaintiffs in the Virginia case.

PAUL HUGHES: Wholly unprecedented - it's an enormous number that has taken everybody by surprise. And we're still trying to fully understand the full magnitude of the orders that the government has implemented.

ROSE: The State Department later said that fewer than 60,000 visas were revoked under a memo on January 27, the same day as Trump's executive order. The White House has argued that the travel ban is legal and necessary to keep the U.S. safe from terrorism. But the confusion over the number of visas just added to the lingering uncertainty about the order.

Can you remember a moment of this much confusion in the field of immigration?

STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: No. I've been practicing for 35 years.

ROSE: Stephen Yale-Loehr teaches immigration law at Cornell University. He's also the co-author of a 21-volume treatise on the subject.

YALE-LOEHR: This executive order, whether you agree with it or not on the merits, was certainly rolled out without any indication of how it should apply, when it should apply. And that makes it very confusing for travelers and for people who are stuck overseas and for the border inspection people.

ROSE: The White House has clarified that the order does not apply to permanent legal residents also known as green card holders. Immigration lawyers say they are getting into the country now. But some are still encountering long waits and extensive interviews at airports. Nicholas Espiritu is with the National Immigration Law Center.

NICHOLAS ESPIRITU: What is happening behind those security gates in interviews that may last for hours, we don't know. We have no idea what policies or procedures the federal government has instituted to comply with this order.

ROSE: And late in the day, a federal judge in Seattle added even more confusion to the mix. District Judge James Robart ruled that a lawsuit brought by Washington state and Minnesota was likely to succeed. Robart granted a temporary restraining order blocking Trump's executive order nationwide. Whether that would help travelers overseas with visas that were revoked by the State Department remained anything but clear. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.