By Mark Landler
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A day after a federal judge temporarily blocked President Trump’s immigration order, the nation’s borders were open Saturday to visa holders from seven predominantly Muslim countries. But there was an air of uncertainty at major travel hubs around the world as the White House moved to quickly seek an emergency stay of the ruling.
Late Saturday, the Justice Department filed papers notifying the District Court that it would seek to have the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit block the lower court’s action. The White House had said earlier that it would direct the Justice Department to file for an emergency stay of the ruling, by Judge James Robart of Federal District Court in Seattle, that would allow continued enforcement of the president’s order.
On another day of chaotic developments over the week-old order, the State Department reversed its cancellation of visas for people from the affected countries and restarted efforts to settle refugees, small numbers of travelers began venturing to airports to try to fly to the United States, and Trump mounted a harsh personal attack on the judge.
In an early-morning Twitter post from his waterfront Florida resort, where he is spending the first getaway weekend of his presidency, Trump wrote, “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
Robart, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, declared in his ruling that “there’s no support” for the administration’s argument that “we have to protect the U.S. from individuals” from the affected countries, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya.
The judge also barred the administration from enforcing its limits on accepting refugees. The State Department said Saturday that refugees – including Syrians, who had faced an indefinite ban under the executive order – might begin arriving as soon as Monday.
Lawrence Bartlett, the department’s director of refugee resettlement, said in a departmental email that officials were working to rebook travel for refugees who had previously been scheduled to leave for the United States over a three-week period ending Feb. 17. A State Department official said that the extended time frame accounted for the fact that some refugees will have to make difficult journeys back to airports from refugee camps.
Until there is a new order from the courts, the official said, the department will go back to vetting refugees, booking their travel and bringing them to the United States. A United Nations spokesman, Leonard Doyle, said about 2,000 refugees were ready to travel.
Airlines, citing U.S. customs officials, were telling passengers from the seven countries that their visas were once again valid. Those carriers, however, have yet to report an uptick in travel, and there appeared to be no rush to airports by visa holders in Europe and the Middle East intent on making their way to the United States before the ruling could be stayed.
Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates’ national carrier, said in a statement: “Following advice received today from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection unit at Abu Dhabi Airport, the airline will again be accepting nationals from the seven countries named last week.” Other Arab carriers, including Qatar Airways, issued similar statements.
A group of advocacy organizations that had worked to overturn the executive order and help immigrants and refugees stranded at airports issued a statement Saturday afternoon encouraging travelers “to rebook travel to the United States immediately.”
“We have been in contact with hundreds of people impacted by the ban, and we are urging them to get on planes as quickly as possible,” Clare Kane, a law student intern at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, one of the groups involved, said in a statement.
But some officials were being more cautious, advising travelers to wait for further clarity.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said it was waiting for additional guidance from Washington. “We don’t know what the effect will be, but we’re working to get more information,” the embassy told the Associated Press in a statement.
Democrats said the president’s criticism of Robart was a dangerous development. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Trump seemed “intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis.” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, whose state filed the suit that led to the injunction, said the attack was “beneath the dignity” of the presidency and could “lead America to calamity.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Trump’s outburst could weigh on the confirmation process for Judge Neil Gorsuch, the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court.
The Washington State case was filed Monday, and it was assigned to Robart that day. He asked for briefs on whether the state had standing to sue, with the last one due Thursday. On Wednesday, Minnesota joined the suit.
On Friday evening, after a hearing, Robart issued a temporary restraining order, saying it was required to maintain the status quo as the case moved forward. He found that the states and their citizens had been injured by Trump’s order.
“The executive order adversely affects the states’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel,” Robart wrote. He said the states had been hurt because the order affected their public universities and their tax base.
Still, Robart’s order left many questions unanswered, said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston.
“Does the executive order violate the equal protection of the laws, amount to an establishment of religion, violate rights of free exercise, or deprive aliens of due process of law?” Blackman asked. “Who knows? The analysis is bare bones, and leaves the court of appeals, as well as the Supreme Court, with no basis to determine whether the nationwide injunction was proper.”
The next question at the trial court level will be whether Robart will make the temporary restraining order more permanent by issuing a preliminary injunction. He ordered the parties to propose a briefing schedule on that question by Monday.
Justice Department appellate lawyers were reviewing the judge’s order. The department would not comment Saturday on the timing of an emergency appeal.
An appeal would most likely go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes the Seattle district where Robart sits. Federal judges in other jurisdictions around the country have issued more limited rulings that temporarily struck down parts of the order, though a federal judge in Boston on Friday upheld it.
Iranians, many of them students on their way to U.S. universities, also rushed to book flights to transfer destinations in the Persian Gulf countries, Turkey and Europe. Pedram Paragomi, a 33-year-old Iranian medical student bound for the University of Pittsburgh, who had been caught up in the initial chaos over the travel ban, flew to Frankfurt on Saturday, where he was to transfer to a flight to Boston.
“I’m anxious,” he said from Frankfurt. “The rules keep on changing, but I think I will make it this time.”
The Washington State case, filed by the state’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, alleged sweeping damages to the state’s economy and communities, but declined to name any individual residents as plaintiffs, as had been the case in the narrower previous cases.
The state made no secret of its intentions with the suit: Ferguson said it was intended to neuter Trump’s order. Standing beside the governor, Inslee, Ferguson said his goal was “invalidating the president’s unlawful action nationwide.”