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Seattle judge halts Trump travel ban implementation

A federal judge in Seattle late on Friday temporarily halted President Donald Trump’s travel clampdown, issuing a ruling that applies on a nationwide basis.

US District Judge James Robart, who was appointed to the bench in 2003 by former President George W Bush, granted a request by Washington’s state attorney-general to stop implementation of Mr Trump’s ban on refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations.

The judge’s temporary restraining order will remain in nationwide effect until Mr Robart considers the state’s challenge to the president’s January 27 travel ban as illegal and unconstitutional.

“The Constitution prevailed today,” said Bob Ferguson, the state attorney-general. “No one is above the law — not even the president.”

The White House responded several hours later, vowing “at the earliest possible time” to have the US Department of Justice seek an emergency stay of the judge’s “outrageous order”. The statement added: “The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people.”

Judge Robart’s ruling came in a suit filed by the state, which drew support from local employers including Amazon and Expedia. In a declaration filed with the court, an Amazon executive said that Mr Trump’s travel ban “immediately — and negatively — impacted employees, dependants of employees, and candidates for employment with Amazon”.

The online retailer employs 49 people affected by the new travel measures and has offered US jobs to seven Iranian-born individuals, who may now be placed in non-US locations, said Ayesha Blackwell-Hawkins, Amazon’s senior manager of mobility and immigration.

“This ruling further demonstrates that the executive order was not adequately thought out,” said David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, which provides humanitarian aid to refugees​.​ “There is every right for the administration to review and build on existing arrangements. There is no excuse for tearing up carefully developed procedures that have kept America safe​,”​ he said.​

Judge Robart acted amid continuing confusion over the impact of the president’s order.

Nearly 60,000 individuals had their visas cancelled as a result of the president’s travel clampdown, the state department said on Friday.

The disclosure came shortly after Erez Reuveni, an immigration attorney with the Department of Justice, put the number at 100,000 during a Virginia court hearing over a petition by two Yemeni brothers who had been affected by the travel ban

The rival estimates from different government departments added to confusion over the scope of Mr Trump’s order. Both numbers discussed on Friday were far higher than the original figure that the administration used publicly or the numbers later released by the Department of Homeland Security. 

On Monday, the president tweeted that “only 109 people” had been detained at US airports because of the ban. Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, later explained that the lower number referred to “the initial group of people that were in transit at the time the executive order was signed”. 

“Fewer than 60,000 individuals’ visas were provisionally revoked to comply with the executive order,” said Will Cocks, a spokesman for the state department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. “We recognise that those individuals are temporarily inconvenienced while we conduct our review.” 

The state department, which controls visa issuance, is reviewing its screening process for admitting travellers and refugees from the affected countries. On January 27, Mr Trump suspended for 90 days all visas from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The president also halted global refugee admissions for 120 days, saying the pause was needed to bolster US defences against terrorism. 

After Mr Trump issued his order barring affected foreigners from entering the country, the state department revoked all existing visas from the seven nations. That added individuals residing in the US and holding such visas to those affected by the temporary ban.

100,000 truly sucked the air out of my lungs, and you could hear the audible gasp in the courtroom. 60,000 is still 60,000 too many

In the travel ban’s first 72 hours, the DHS said it had prevented 721 people with visas from boarding flights to the US and granted waivers to 1,060 legal permanent residents or “green card” holders. 

“109 was always preposterous,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, the attorney representing the Aziz brothers. “100,000 truly sucked the air out of my lungs, and you could hear the audible gasp in the courtroom. 60,000 is still 60,000 too many.” 

Tarek, 21, and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz, 19, both green card holders, arrived at Dulles International Airport on Saturday morning, en route to Michigan to visit their father, a US citizen. 

DHS officials detained the men and bullied them into signing papers they did not understand, surrendering their status as legal permanent residents, their attorney argued in court filings. After holding them in handcuffs for around two hours, border control agents put the brothers on a flight to Ethiopia. 

During the White House press briefing on Friday, Mr Spicer was asked to address the competing estimates. “I’ll have to get back to you,” he told reporters. “I don’t have all the details on that.” 

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed 18 requests under the Freedom of Information Act seeking data on the US Customs and Border Protection service’s implementation of the ban. The group said it acted following press reports that border control officers had detained and deported individuals even after federal courts had ordered a halt to the practice. 

“It is imperative that the public learn if federal immigration officials are blatantly defying nationwide federal court orders that block President Trump’s unconstitutional Muslim ban,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, a San Diego-based ACLU attorney.

Via FT