President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking citizens of seven Muslim nations upended thousands of lives overnight, with even permanent U.S. residents denied entry or stranded abroad over the weekend.
Outraged families and advocacy groups publicized cases of visa holders and permanent residents, including some who’ve held green cards for decades, being detained at airports or barred from entering the United States. Protesters gathered at international airports in the United States to demand that the new policy be abandoned.
Trump’s order halts refugee admissions and imposes a 90-day ban on entry for citizens of a group of Middle East and North African nations.
Immigration specialists say the wording of the order is so murky that its true scope - at least as it applies to permanent residents and dual citizens - will become clear only through test cases.
A first round of arrivals Saturday caused chaos, with outcomes ranging from immediate deportation to entry for green-card holders only after they’d been questioned for hours about their beliefs. There were also reports of airlines turning back passengers with reservations to travel to the United States because of the new order.
Google, the Silicon Valley search giant, announced that the order may affect as many as 200 of its staff who were traveling outside the country either for work or vacation. Google CEO Sundar Pichai blasted the order in a note to employees.
“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” Pichai wrote. “We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”
Employees of other technology companies were likely to find themselves in similar straits because of the order. Silicon Valley firms employ thousands of non-U.S. citizens.
Also affected were Iraqis who helped the United States during the war there but were denied entry, even though they’d been approved under a program that gives them priority for resettlement. U.S. military veterans angrily took to Twitter, denouncing Trump’s order as a betrayal of Iraqis who provided life-saving intelligence and translation services.
“This had been my dream,” said a devastated Fuad Sharef, who sold his house in Iraq and quit his job to be resettled in Nashville, Tenn., under the program.
Sharef, his wife and their two children were prevented from boarding a connecting flight from Egypt to the United States. They were forced to board a plane back to Irbil, in Iraq’s Kurdish north.
“No explanation,” he said by phone from the airport. “No explanation, no justification.”
The order applies to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. Visa holders and refugees shouldn’t even try to enter, immigration attorneys said. Permanent residents and dual citizens might be able to persuade border security officials to allow them in, they said.
Green-card holders who had permission to live and work in the United States permanently but who were abroad when Trump’s order went into effect will have their cases reviewed individually and will require waivers before they can enter the United States, said a senior administration official with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The White House pushed back on the portrayal of the order as a “Muslim ban,” listing several predominantly Muslim countries that are exempt.
“We’re dealing with a relatively small universe of people,” the official said. “It’s important to keep in mind that no person living or residing overseas has a right to entry to the U.S.”
The official also implied that the administration was considering some sort of hardship exemption for refugees who had been approved to enter the United States but are currently in a third country. He said the administration is working to define what “in transit” means before announcing how such a procedure might work.
Civil rights groups called Trump’s measures discriminatory and ineffective. They fought back by filing the first legal challenge to the order, on behalf of two Iraqi men who’d been targeted in Iraq because of their work with the U.S. military. The men had been approved for resettlement but were denied entry and detained at JFK airport in New York, according to a statement by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group.
Attorney Tarek Z. Ismail said he’s been on the phone nonstop with anguished travelers and their families. One was from a university student, a permanent U.S. resident who has spent most of her life here, who heard about the ban while on a research trip to her country of origin, which Ismail did not name out of privacy concerns. She boarded a flight to the United States 20 hours before Trump signed the order, but her plane was delayed and she landed half an hour after it took effect.
“This was a complete life shift that was going to happen in the blink of an eye,” said Ismail, the senior staff attorney at the City University of New York Law School’s CLEAR project, which addresses legal needs of Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities in the New York City area.
Ismail said he had little faith that the government would repeal the ban after a review in 90 days. The idea that it’s temporary, he said, “is folly.”
“This is Donald Trump we’re talking about,” Ismail said.