Airports around the country were transformed into ad hoc legal centers over the weekend, as attorneys continued furiously to file petitions to free detained clients who were ensnared by President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting entry into the United States. Attorneys and politicians charged that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were flouting the federal judiciary by not allowing lawyers access to detainees, not releasing the names of those in detention, and pressuring those in detention to sign papers to speed up their removal from the United States.
The chaotic clash between an executive branch intent on intensifying its war on foreigners and a judiciary committed to Constitutional protections began on Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Federal judges around the United States ruled that President Donald Trump’s executive order targeting refugees and Muslims must not be enforced—at least for now—against travelers with valid visas who were on their way to the United States at the time the order was issued. First a judge in New York, and then judges in Boston, Seattle, Alexandria, and Los Angeles issued rulings to temporarily stay Trump’s executive order as it winds through the court system, protecting detainees in airports, for now, from deportation.
Protesters and lawyers celebrated the rulings. The Boston ruling was the broadest in scope: The judges there said that refugees with valid legal papers as well as lawful immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries named in the Trump order must be allowed into the country without being detained, at least for the next week, until another hearing is held. However, it seems the order only applied to Boston, not the whole country. The Los Angeles ruling was different than the others in that it directed the US government to permit the return of a visa holder from Iran who had already been deported under the executive order.
But on Sunday, the sense of victory for civil-liberties advocates was tempered by the fact that CBP agents continued to detain immigrants and refugees. At least in New York, the judge’s ruling did not explicitly bar the continued detention of travelers, although it did rule that they could not be deported. However, some lawyers and advocates at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) argued that federal agents should not impede the entry of those with legal papers, and that prolonged detention violated due-process rights.
“For anyone who is coming in here to JFK, CBP needs to let them through, as long as they have a valid green-card or a valid visa,” Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York and director of the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project, told The Nation. He added that the executive order underlying the detentions “is nothing other than thinly veiled racism and prejudice.”