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Federal judge halts Trump’s immigration order — but only for those already here

The Trump administration can’t deport the people it’s currently holding in airports.

Protestors Rally At JFK Airport Against Muslim Immigration Ban Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Federal Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York has handed an early victory to the lawyers challenging President Donald Trump’s executive order barring immigrants and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US.

Judge Donnelly announced during an emergency hearing Saturday night that she was granting a stay that would prevent the government from deporting immigrants currently detained in airports around the country. You can read the stay in full here.

Now, let’s be clear: The stay does not strike down the full executive order. It does not allow people to come to the US who are currently abroad. What it does is “preserve the status quo” for people who came to the US in the immediate aftermath of the executive order, after having been granted visas allowing them to legally come to the US (before the order was signed).

That means it prevents the hundreds of people detained at airports Friday and Saturday from being deported, while the court system susses out whether Trump’s executive order was in fact legal.

Donnelly ordered that the federal government was restrained nationwide from “in any manner or any means removing” people with previously approved refugee applications, holders of valid immigrant and non-immigrant visas, and other individuals from the seven countries named in the executive order.

The judge seemed very skeptical of the Trump administration's defense

Several reporters and activists were tweeting from the hearing, and according to their accounts, Donnelly — who was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed to her judgeship in 2015 — seemed unimpressed by the government’s arguments against granting a stay.

Donnelly also told the federal government to provide a list of everyone who’s been detained — something the government doesn’t appear to have.

This order does not reverse Trump’s immigration order — or restore refugee admissions

It should be made clear that this is a temporary measure halting part of Trump’s order, rather than a judicial finding that the order is unconstitutional.

And again, the bulk of the sweeping immigration order remains in effect for people who aren’t already in transit to the US or on American soil.

  • The refugee admissions program won’t be approving new refugees for at least four months, and new Syrian refugee approvals are blocked indefinitely.
  • There has been confusion over the treatment of lawful permanent residents of the US (like green card holders) from those seven countries and preapproved refugees who are currently abroad. Early on, it appeared they did not have “permission” to come back to the US. On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security said that the legal permanent residents in question would be readmitted to the country, subject to security checks.
  • The various other changes Trump made to immigration policy, such as cutting the yearly refugee target in half and favoring “religious minorities” for those spots, are also untouched.

We’re still in the very early stages here

The events that unfolded as reports of immigrants and traveler detentions spread on Saturday were remarkable. Thousands of protesters poured into international airports nationwide to express opposition to Trump’s orders and support for refugees.

“The folks who are there, the family members who are there, you can see the fear in their eyes,” says Sirine Shebaya, a civil rights attorney who traveled to Dulles Airport with other lawyers to try help refugees and travelers detained there. “‘Is my family member going to be let out?’ It’s just unbelievable the chaos this executive order has sown.”

Shebaya said that airport authorities weren’t allowing lawyers to go in to see the people being detained at Dulles, claiming that they weren’t yet on American soil. (Later Saturday, a second judge ruled that lawyers should have “access to all legal permanent residents” being detained at the airport.)

Throughout the day, condemnations of Trump’s order from Democrats rolled in — and many went to join airport protests themselves. Republican members of Congress, however, stayed mostly silent, except for a few idiosyncratic dissenters who criticized the move — showing they aren’t yet sure how the politics of this move will play out.

Overall, we’re still at the very early stages of this legal, political, and policy fight. Still, Judge Donnelly’s stay makes for a remarkable turnabout from how the situation looked throughout the day on Saturday, and hands the new president his first setback in the judicial system.

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