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Federal Judge Stays Trump Travel Order, But Many Visas Already Revoked

Ali Vayeghan (left), an Iranian citizen with a valid U.S. visa, arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday after initially being turned away. He was allowed to come back under a federal judge's order.
Damian Dovarganes
Ali Vayeghan (left), an Iranian citizen with a valid U.S. visa, arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday after initially being turned away. He was allowed to come back under a federal judge's order.

Updated at 4:30 a.m. ET Saturday

A federal judge in Seattle has issued a nationwide temporary stay against President Trump's executive order that prevented citizens of seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States. Judge James Robart acted to stop implementation of the order while a case brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota is heard.

The White House issued a statement Friday night, saying the Justice Department will appeal the Seattle judge's action:

"At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate. The president's order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people.

"As the law states, 'Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.' "

The White House soon amended the statement, deleting the word "outrageous."

After the judge's order, Qatar Airways announced on Saturday it would allow passengers who are nationals of the seven affected countries and all refugees with a valid U.S. visa or green card to travel to the U.S., according to a statement on the company's website. The airline said it made the change after direction from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The State Department said earlier Friday that it had already revoked some 60,000 visas, so even if the stay survives appellate review, it's not clear whether many travelers from those countries will be immediately free to enter the country.

The State Department said today "roughly 60,000 individuals' visas were provisionally revoked" as a result of Trump's Jan. 27 executive order barring refugees from seven countries.

That number is considerably lower than the number given by a Justice Department attorney, who said today in federal court in Virginia that 100,000 visas were revoked as a result of the order, as Carmel Delshad of NPR station WAMU reported.

Both numbers are much larger than the figure provided by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this week. Kevin McAleenan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told reporters on Tuesday that 721 people with visas had not been allowed to board airplanes to the U.S. in the first 72 hours after the order went into effect. An additional 1,135 people with visas were granted waivers to enter the country, he said.

The 100,000 figure came out during a hearing for two lawful permanent residents from Yemen who filed a lawsuit after arriving at Dulles International Airport last Saturday. The two men allege they were detained and coerced into giving up their immigrant visas before being put on a return flight to Ethiopia, Delshad reported.

"U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said that it was clear to her the temporary travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries went into effect too quickly, and not a lot of thought went into it," and she issued a seven-day extension of a temporary order barring the deportation of green card holders from Dulles Airport, Delshad reported.

The executive order bans people from traveling to the U.S. from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for three months, suspends new-refugee admissions for 120 days and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely.

State Department spokesman Will Cocks says the executive order doesn't mean a visa holder already in the U.S. is in the country illegally.

Asked, by way of example, about a hypothetical Iranian student currently in the U.S., he said such a student "likely has a visa that could have been revoked. However this has no impact on legal status on those in the U.S. So they are not here illegally."

New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, Minnesota and Washington state all have sued the federal government regarding the order. Eric Schneiderman, the New York state attorney general, described the order signed a week ago as "unconstitutional, unlawful, and fundamentally un-American," reported The Guardian.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.