Federal Court Halts Deportations Under Trump's Muslim Ban, Giving President First Major Defeat After Day of Protest

Donald Trump’s first week in office ended in a globally watched debacle, as a federal court judge in New York City Saturday night declared his executive order to send legal visitors from seven Muslim countries back after landing at U.S. airports was blatantly unconstitutional.

Judge Ann M. Donnelly of U.S. District Court in Brooklyn issued an emergency order stopping the deportations before 9pm EST, saying Trump’s order could cause them “irreparable harm,” violated their equal protection and due process rights, and that the ACLU filing on behalf of those banned was likely to succeed when a full trial was heard in several weeks. Similar decisions by federal judges in Virginia, Seattle and Boston followed.

“This is a remarkable day,” said Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director, on the courthouse steps after Judge Donnelly's emergency ruling. “On day one, after he signed the executive order, we jumped into court, arguing that it was unconstitutional, arguing that it was unAmerican and that it flew in the face of established statutes that we have long regarded in this country.”

“And our attorneys convinced the judge to hold all of these movements, all of these efforts to deport individuals who had lawfully come into this country, immigrants with green cards, individuals who had visas—this was a remarkable day,” Romero continued. “What we have shown today is the courts can work. They are a bulwark in our democracy. And when President Trump enacts laws or executive orders that are unconstitutional and illegal, the courts are there to defend everyone’s rights.”

The ACLU spent much of Friday preparing a lawsuit and filed it soon after the first reports emerged from airports that the airlines and immigration authorities were detaining travelers—including refugees with green cards and other visa holders—and putting some back on planes. Those reports sparked protests at major airports in many cities across the nation—New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles—as eyewitness accounts on social media chronicled a growing crescendo of voices siding with the travelers.

Earlier in the day, Trump said the policy that barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen was “not a Muslim ban.” He also said of the chaotic scene, “We were totally prepared… It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”

By midday, that was anything but the case, as stories emerged of the people who were being turned away, families fleeing war who waited for years to get to the U.S.; Iraqis who had helped the United States military in Iraq; Iranians who sold all their possessions before boarding a plane.

The reports on social media from the various airports suggested that some undetermined number of refugees had been deported—sent back on planes to their countries of origin—even as lawyers for the ACLU and other immigration rights groups were trying to determine who had been targeted or detained and what their current status was. Eyewitness reports posted late Saturday evening in San Francisco said people were unsure of the status of those who had been detained but not yet released.

It’s unclear what the next steps are for other refugees traveling to the U.S. while this lawsuit unfolds. However, on Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that anyone rejected by the United States is welcome in Canada. Canada’s immigration agency website said that any U.S. green card holder does not need a visa to enter Canada.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau tweeted.

The court order marks a stunning turnaround for Trump, as he spent most of Saturday declaring how successful his first week in office was.

“This administration has hit the ground running at a record pace, everybody is talking about it,” he said in his first national radio address. “We are doing it with speed and we are doing it with intelligence and we will never, ever stop fighting on behalf of the American people.”

Everybody sure is talking about this colossal blunder and global embarrassment. There’s much more that will soon unfold as the stories of refugees and those deported surface in the hours and days to come.

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