Visa holders rush to use court's hold on Trump travel ban

06 February 2017

Visa holders from seven Muslim-majority countries who were turned away from the United States due to President Donald Trump's travel ban are hoping to make it through the narrow window opened by legal challenges.

The Federal Appeals Court in San Francisco on Sunday denied the Trump administration's effort to immediately reinstate the ban. For now, it remains blocked by a judge's temporary restraining order, and federal officials have told their staffs to comply.

Advocates weren't taking any chances, telling people who could travel to get on the earliest flights they could find after the week-old ban was blocked on Friday by US District Judge James Robart in Seattle (See: US judge puts Trump's visa ban on hold after states' challenge).

"We're telling them to get on the quickest flight ASAP," said Rula Aoun, director of the Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn, Michigan. Her group sued in federal court in Detroit, challenging Trump's executive order as unconstitutional.

Protesters sought to keep up the pressure, gathering in Denver and other US cities to demonstrate against the ban. Meanwhile, legal advocates waited at airports in case anything went wrong with new arrivals.

Cairo airport officials say a total of 33 US-bound migrants from Yemen, Syria and Iraq have boarded flights on their way to the United States.

The officials said the 33 had not previously been turned back, but were rather migrants who are rushing to take advantage of the window offered by the court ruling. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The State Department has advised refugee aid agencies that refugees who had been scheduled to travel before the order was signed will now be allowed into the US. A State Department official said in an email obtained by The Associated Press that the government is "focusing on booking refugee travel through 17 February," with arrivals resuming as soon as Monday.

US officials have said up to 60,000 foreigners had their visas "provisionally revoked" to comply with Trump's order. Confusion during the rollout of the ban initially found green card holders caught in travel limbo, until the White House on Wednesday clarified that they were not included in the ban.

Despite the suspension of the travel ban, some airlines were slow to let aboard people from the seven countries.

Royal Jordanian Airlines, which operates direct flights from Amman to New York, Chicago and Detroit, said it would resume carrying nationals from the seven countries as long as they presented a valid US visa or green card.

A Qatar Airways spokeswoman said the airline would begin boarding travellers from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Somalia. But immigration attorney Julie Goldberg said a Qatar Airways representative told her that immigrants from the seven countries were still not allowed to fly Saturday afternoon.

Goldberg said she was trying to arrange flights for dozens of Yemeni citizens who have immigrant visas and were stranded in the African nation of Djibouti.

She said a supervisor at Turkish Airlines told her that people holding immigrant and non-immigrant visas from the seven countries still were being banned unless they had a special email from the US Customs and Border Protection.

Lebanon's National News Agency said airlines operating out of Beirut have begun allowing Syrian families and others affected by the ban to board US-bound flights. Beirut has no direct flights to the US so travellers usually transit through Europe.


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