State Department reverses visa ban, allows travelers with visas into US: official
WASHINGTON/DAMASCUS: U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday denounced a judge who lifted a travel ban for citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries, vowing that his government would reinstate it as affected travelers scrambled for tickets to try to quickly enter the United States.
The federal judge in Seattle on Friday blocked Trump’s week-old order to stop people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from traveling to the United States as his administration develops stricter vetting rules for immigrants and travelers that Trump says are needed to prevent attacks. The Washington state lawsuit is the first to test the broad constitutionality of Trump’s travel ban, which has been condemned by rights groups that consider it discriminatory. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Trump said on Twitter. It is unusual for a president to attack a member of the judiciary, which is an independent arm of the U.S. government. “When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in & out, especially for reasons of safety & security – big trouble!” Trump tweeted. Because of the temporary restraining order, the U.S. government said travelers with valid visas would be allowed to enter the country. The State Department said almost 60,000 visas had been suspended because of Trump’s ban. The order had set off chaos and moved thousands of people to protest at airports across the United States last week. “I am very happy that we are going to travel today. Finally, we made it,” said Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented from boarding a flight to New York last week. “I didn’t surrender and I fought for my right and other people’s right,” Sharef told Reuters as he and his family prepared to fly from Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, to Istanbul and then to New York, before starting a new life in Nashville, Tennessee. Virtually all refugees also were barred, upending the lives of thousands of people who had spent years seeking asylum in the United States. On Saturday, a small group of immigration lawyers, some holding signs in English and Arabic, gathered at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, offering services to passengers arriving from overseas destinations. “This is an instance where people could really slip through the cracks and get detained and nobody would know,” said John Biancamano, 35, an attorney volunteering his services. At Dulles International Airport outside Washington, volunteer lawyers also were in place to help travelers and monitor how visa holders and permanent residents were being treated as they arrived.
The Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday it would return to its normal procedures for screening travelers but that the Trump administration would fight to overturn Friday’s ruling. “At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this order and defend the president’s executive order, which is lawful and appropriate,” DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said a statement. Some travelers told Reuters they were cautious about the sudden change. Overnight, some international airlines were uncertain about whether they could sell tickets to travelers from the countries in Trump’s ban. “I will not say if I have hope or not. I wait, watch and then I build my hopes,” said Josephine Abu Assaleh, who was stopped from entering the United States after landing in Philadelphia last week with five members of her family. Abu Assaleh, 60, and her family were granted U.S. visas in 2016, some 13 years after they initially made their applications. “We left the matter with the lawyers. When they tell us the decision has been canceled, we will decide whether to go back or not,” she told Reuters in Damascus, speaking by telephone. Trump’s order also put a 120-day halt on the U.S. refugee admission program and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely. With Friday night’s restraining order on the ban, refugees who have been cleared can now board planes. Iraqi refugee Nizar al-Qassab, 52, told Reuters in Lebanon: “If it really has been frozen, I thank God, because my wife and children should have been in America by now.” He said his family had been due to travel to the United States for resettlement on Jan. 31. The trip was canceled two days before that and he was now waiting for a phone call from U.N. officials overseeing their case. “It’s in God’s hands,” he said.