A US federal judge has issued an emergency ruling temporarily halting the deportations of travelers with valid visas detained under an executive order from President Donald Trump.
The stay issued Saturday by US District Judge Ann Donnelly barred US border agents from removing anyone who arrived in the US with a valid visa or refugee permit from the seven Muslim-majority countries subject to Trump’s directive.
"There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals," said Donnelly, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama.
Trump’s order imposes a 90-day ban on entry from citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia, blocks refugees from Syria indefinitely, and suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days.
While the court ruling was only a partial block to the executive order, it was seen as a significant blow to the new administration’s clamp down on immigration.
It came less than a day after two Iraqi men were detained at John F Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday morning.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit early on Saturday on behalf of the two Iraqis, while estimating that between 100 and 200 people were being caught up at airports or in transit across the US.
People who were already mid-flight were detained upon arrival even if they held valid visas or other approved applications.
Lee Gelernt, deputy legal director of the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project who argued the case in court, told a cheering crowd outside that the Saturday ruling “ensures that people who have been granted permission to be in this country are not illegally removed off US soil.”
"The judge, in a nutshell, saw through what the government was doing and gave us what we wanted, which was to block the Trump order and not allow the government to remove anybody who has come and is caught up in the order, nationwide," he told the crowd.
Gelernt also said the judge had ordered the Trump administration to provide a list of those detained under the president’s directive.