Trump’s immigration order already has its first legal challenge

Protestors gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport on Saturday.
Protestors gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport on Saturday.
Image: Reuters/Joe Penney
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In less time than it would take to binge-watch a season of The Celebrity Apprentice, president Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order indefinitely barring Syrian refugees from entering the US and temporarily barring visitors from six other Muslim-majority countries has met its first courtroom battle.

A federal judge in Brooklyn on Saturday night issued an emergency stay against the executive order, responding to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, two Iraqi men who were detained at JFK International Airport in New York on Friday. Both men were later released. Darweesh and Alshawi both were traveling to the US legally, and both had done work for the US military in the past.

The decision grants a stay for detainees affected by Trump’s order—meaning those trapped at airports can’t be forced to return to their home countries (or previous locations)—but its implications for the executive order’s broader mandate remain unclear. The stay says that (pdf) those currently detained cannot be “removed” from the US, but doesn’t explicitly compel the government to grant their entry. At Newark airport in New Jersey, immigration lawyers on Saturday were printing out copies of the judge’s order to show to customs officials, but told Quartz they were unsure about the breadth of its reach.

Judge Ann Donnelly’s decision will force the issue to trial. The ACLU has filed for class certification for detained refugees; if that motion is granted, the organization would represent all those denied entry to the US due to the executive order today. The government will have to prove that the executive order doesn’t violate the law.

BuzzFeed’s Tom Namako reported that in granting the stay, Donnelly said “I think the government hasn’t had a full chance to think about this.”

Indeed, enforcement of the order caused chaos at US airports on Friday and Saturday, as Department of Homeland Security officials struggled to figure out how to implement the measure for those already on their way to the US. Protests also erupted at several major US airports, including JFK.