A federal judge in Brooklyn, New York issued an emergency stay on Saturday that temporarily blocks the US government from sending people out of the country after they have landed at a US airport with valid visas.
The American Civil Liberties Union estimates the stay will affect 100 to 200 people detained at US airports or in transit, but government lawyers could not confirm that number.
The ruling by Judge Ann Donnelly of the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York came during a hearing called after President Donald Trump issued an executive order blocking people from seven Muslim-majority from entering the United States and putting a temporary halt to refugee admissions.
Trump’s order for “extreme vetting” of visitors and legal US residents from seven Muslim-majority countries sparked outrage and protests on Saturday with activists arguing in court to try to block deportations of people stranded in US airports.
The new Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travellers from Syria and six other countries. Immigration lawyers, activists and Democratic politicians reacted furiously, and many worked to help marooned travellers find a way back home.
A large crowd chanting “Let them stay, it’s the American way!” outside the courthouse.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at airports in Dallas, Chicago, New York and elsewhere while inside, anxious family members waited and worried for travellers.
At Chicago O’Hare International Airport, brothers Bardia and Ayden Noohi waited for four hours for their father Kasra Noohi — who has an Iranian passport and a US green card — to be allowed through.
They knew Trump had pledged tougher rules but did not expect they would affect holders of green cards, which allow foreigners to live and work in the United States.
“I didn’t think he’d actually do it,” Bardia Noohi, 32, said. “A lot of politicians just talk.”
Trump, who took office just over a week ago, had promised during his campaign what he called “extreme vetting” to do more to protect Americans from terror attacks.
He told reporters in the Oval Office that his order was “not a Muslim ban” and said the measures were long overdue.
“It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over,” Trump said.
“We’re going to have a very, very strict ban and we’re going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years.”
The ban affects travellers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Green card holders will not be allowed back in until they are re-screened.
The order seeks to priorities refugees fleeing religious persecution. In a television interview, Trump said the measure was aimed at helping Christians in Syria.
Confusion abounded at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules, with some legal residents who were in the air when the order was issued detained at airports upon arrival.