NEW YORK ― Late Saturday, a federal judge in Brooklyn temporarily halted parts of President Donald Trump's sweeping executive order that aimed to block the entry of Syrian refugees and impose a de facto ban on travelers coming from several Muslim-majority countries.
The American Civil Liberties Union, immigrants' rights groups and refugee relief organizations had filed the action in federal court Saturday morning on behalf of two Iraqi nationals who were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, asking for a declaration that the order is unconstitutional and requesting an injunction to prevent its implementation against other travelers who may be equally harmed.
"The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioners and others similarly situated violates the rights to Due Process and Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution," U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York wrote in her order.
The legal action named Trump in his official capacity as president, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and other high-ranking officials. Although temporary and subject to appeal, it represents the first constitutional setback faced by the new administration.
"This ruling preserves the status quo and ensures that people who have been granted permission to be in this country are not illegally removed off U.S. soil," said Lee Gelernt, the ACLU lawyer who was in court Saturday arguing the case, in a statement.
The immediate reading of Donnelly's order left several interpretations, but the nationwide stay specifically forbids the federal government from deporting refugees who have been cleared by immigration authorities to enter the country. It also protects "holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, [who are] legally authorized to enter the United States."
Because the Constitution only applies territorially, that would mean the ruling covers those travelers detained and stranded at airports and other ports of entry, and possibly those who were stranded mid-travel but have authorization to be in the United States.
The ambiguity of Saturday's ruling underscores the crazed process by which Trump's executive order was implemented and litigated ― all within a span of a day. And it portends even more high-pitched court battles ahead, including a likely trip to the Supreme Court, which is presently short one member.
In a related development Saturday evening, another federal judge in Virginia issued an order barring for seven days the deportation of between 50 and 60 legal permanent residents detained at Washington Dulles International Airport. The travelers were detained upon arrival because they are citizens of the seven countries listed in Trump's travel ban, and federal authorities wouldn't allow them to contact lawyers or family members, according to the legal team representing them.
Read the full ruling blocking parts of Trump's executive order below.