US judges in at least four states blocked federal authorities from enforcing President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Judges in Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington state, each home to major international airports, issued their rulings late Saturday or early Sunday, following an order on Saturday night by US District Judge Ann Donnelly in New York’s Brooklyn borough.
Donnelly had ruled in a lawsuit by two men from Iraq being held at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
While none of the rulings struck down the executive order, the growing number of orders could complicate the administration’s effort to enforce it.
Trump’s order on Friday halted immigration from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, and stopped the resettlement of refugees for 120 days. The new Republican president said these actions were needed “to protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States”.
Condemnation of the order was swift and broad-based. Democratic politicians and civil rights groups weighed in, as well as US allies who view the actions as discriminatory and divisive.
Democratic attorneys general from California, New York and other states, meanwhile, were discussing whether to pursue their own legal challenges.
The US Department of Homeland Security on Sunday said it “will comply with judicial orders,” while enforcing Trump’s executive order in a manner that ensures those entering the United States “do not pose a threat to our country or the American people.”
Across the United States, lawyers worked overnight to help confused international travelers at airports. Activists and lawyers tracking the arrivals said some Border Patrol agents appeared to be disregarding the various court orders.
“There is really no method to this madness,” Becca Heller, director of the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project organization, told reporters on a conference call.
Supporters of Trump’s order said authorities acted properly in swiftly taking steps to enforce it.
“It is better (to) be safe than sorry,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies in Washington.
Lawsuits brought on behalf of more than 100 individual travelers have been filed around the country, some activists and lawyers have estimated.
In Boston, District Judge Allison Burroughs on Sunday issued a temporary restraining order blocking the removal of two Iranians who have taught at the University of Massachusetts, and had been detained at the city’s Logan International Airport.
That order was set to last seven days, and appeared to go further than Donnelly’s by barring officials from detaining, as well as removing, approved refugees, visa holders and permanent US residents entering from the seven countries. Donnelly’s order forbade only removal.
Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, in a statement called Burroughs’ order “a huge victory for justice” in the face of what he characterized as Trump’s “unconstitutional ban on Muslims.”
In Alexandria, Virginia, District Judge Leonie Brinkema late on Saturday barred the Homeland Security agency from removing an estimated 50 to 60 legal permanent residents who had been detained at Dulles International Airport, which serves the Washington DC area.
That order also required the agency to let those individuals speak with lawyers, according to the Legal Aid and Justice Center in Virginia, which represents lower-income people.
In Seattle, District Judge Thomas Zilly barred the government from removing two people, who were not identified by name in court papers. He scheduled a February 3 hearing over whether to lift that stay.