Several people have been detained at airports within the United States and others have been barred from boarding international flights destined for the U.S., according to U.S.-based lawyers and international airport officials, as an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday restricting travel from certain countries begins to take hold.
The executive order went into immediate effect Friday night, banning citizens of seven majority Muslim countries and stranding some at airports mid-journey. The New York Times newspaper is reporting that lawyers have already taken legal action on behalf of two Iraqi refugees being held at New York’s JFK Airport and requested a process that would extend the lawsuit to include all refugees who say they are being illegally detained at U.S. airports.
The lawyers, who are working with the International Refugee Assistance Project and other civil rights groups, told the Times one of the men being held in New York worked with the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years and the other was traveling to America to join his wife and young son, who already live there.
“We’ve never had an issue once one of our clients was at a port of entry in the United States,” one of the lawyers, Mark Doss, told the Times. “To see people being detained indefinitely in the country that’s supposed to welcome them is a total shock.”
Officials at the Cairo airport in Egypt said an Iraqi family was barred from boarding a plane destined for New York because of the new regulations.
When the flight manifest was sent to JFK airport in New York, officials there responded with instructions not to let the family – a man, his wife and two children – on the EgyptAir flight.
Qatar Airways told its customers from the seven countries they would need either a green card or a diplomatic visa in order to board a flight destined for the U.S.
Potential constitutional collision
Paul Callan, a CNN legal analyst and former New York City prosecutor, told VOA refugees and others can legally be blocked from entering the U.S., but once they arrive on U.S. soil, dealing with them becomes more difficult because they are protected by the U.S. Constitution.
“You can block people from coming into the country. But once they’re in, all persons have constitutional protections if they’re in the United States and certainly if there is a claim that those constitutional rights are being violated by an executive order, that claim would go to the U.S. Supreme Court, so I think we’ll see a lot of litigation on this issue,” he said.
It is not yet known how many people are being held within the U.S. in compliance with the executive order, which suspended entry from those seven majority Muslim countries for 90 days, but didn’t account for those already in transit.
VOA contacted the State Department to inquire what guidance the agency is providing to those refugees currently in transit to the U.S. or legal permanent residents of the U.S. – so-called green card holders – who may currently be out of the country.
A spokesman responded that the State Department is working to put the executive order into effect and the “safety and security of the American people always comes first.”
“We take seriously our responsibility to safeguard the American public while remaining committed to assisting the world’s most vulnerable people,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters green card holders would be included in the ban.
“It will bar green card holders,” spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.
In addition to barring residents of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days, the Trump executive order put a permanent ban on admission of Syrian refugees and a 120-day ban on all other refugees entering the U.S.
The president said Friday that only people who support the United States should be allowed into the country. The executive order he signed discussed identification and verification procedures that U.S. consular officers should use in extensive detail.
“We don’t want them here,” said Trump. “We want to make sure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”