A federal judge granted a stay on deportations for people who have arrived with valid visas from seven-majority Muslim nations, dealing President Donald Trump an early blow in the legal battle over his executive order to halt travel from a wide swath of the Middle East and Africa.
Less than 24 hours after two Iraqi men were detained at John F Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday morning, their attorneys and allies with the American Civil Liberties Union cheered the decision, which held that no one currently detained can be deported.
“Stay is national,” ACLU attorney Daniel Ho tweeted after the hearing.
“I think the government hasn’t had a full chance to think about this,” judge Ann Donnelly told the court, ordering the government to provide a list of names for people affected.
Donnelly said that anyone from one of the seven countries who was in flight en route to the US when the order was signed and landed with a valid visa would be allowed to legally stay in the country.
The ACLU estimated that between 100 to 200 people around the country had been detained prior to the hearing. Government lawyers could not confirm that number.
The stay will last at least until a hearing scheduled for 21 February, the judge said. Donnelly ruled that the deportations could cause the plaintiffs “irreparable harm” by returning them to countries where they had been threatened, and noted that the plaintiffs included visa-holders who had already been approved for entry to the US.
The plaintiffs included two Iraqi refugees who had spent hours detained at JFK: Hameed Khalid Darweesh, who had worked for the US government for a decade, and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, who was joining his wife, a US contractor, in the country.
Dozens of people were detained at airports all around the US on Saturday, sowing confusion between attorneys and authorities and chaos for travelers and families, many of whom were separated by legal barriers overnight and in transit.
By Saturday night, hundreds of people had gathered at airports in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Philadelphia, among other cities.