Protesters rally against President Trump's new immigration order and chant welcome to travelers inside the arrival hall at Tom Bradley Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on Sunday. Photo by Christine Chew/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Amid legal challenges and global protests, President Donald Trump on Sunday defended his executive order banning refugees, migrants and foreign nationals from seven mostly Muslim countries from entering the United States as a temporary ban to "protect and serve our country."
In a statement, Trump defended his move by claiming that former President Obama "banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months" in 2011. But a check of congressional testimony at the time shows Trump's claim is untrue – thousands of Iraqi refugees were subjected to much more intense vetting, which slowed down the issuance of their visas, but there never was a "ban."
Trump said the seven countries targeted by his order were also listed by Obama as potential terror sources. And he denies it's a "Muslim ban," saying, "this is not about religion -- this is about terror and keeping our country safe."
Late Saturday, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly issued her injunction during an emergency hearing in Brooklyn, N.Y., as several hundred people opposing Trump's order appeared outside the federal courthouse.
Demonstrators also protested outside many international airports, including John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Dulles Airport outside Washington, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and Los Angeles International Airport. Several travelers from Muslim-majority countries were being held at various airports. The protests continued Sunday in several cities.
"I hope Trump enjoys losing. He's going to lose so much we're going to get sick and tired of his losing," American Civil Liberties Union national political director Faiz Shakir told Yahoo News shortly after Donnelly's decision.
Shakir was referencing a similar quote from Trump that he used during primary victories.
Donnelly, an appointee of President Barack Obama, explained her ruling, saying "the whole point of this hearing is to preserve the status quo. I don't think it's unduly burdensome to identify people we are talking about here. Nobody is to be removed in this class."
ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said the immigrants were caught in limbo as Trump's order was being issued.
"These people were caught in transit," Gelernt said. "The government is putting someone back on a plane to Syria now."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Riley said that the hearing was rushed.
"This has unfolded with such speed, we haven't had an opportunity to address any of the important legal issues," Riley said.
The judge's order only protects a few people already on or about to board flights to the United States when Trump signed his measure.
Trump defended his order, which took effect immediately Friday.
"America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border," Trump said. "To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion -- this is about terror and keeping our country safe.
"There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days."
Trump first reacted to the outcry Sunday morning via Twitter.
"Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world - a horrible mess!" Trump tweeted Sunday morning.
"Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!" another post from the president said.
A federal judge in Alexandria, Va., barred the deportation of all green-card holders being detained at Dulles Airport for seven days. Also, a federal judge in Seattle blocked the deportation of two immigrants from the airport there until a hearing Friday. And early Sunday morning, two federal judges in Massachusetts also ordered the actual release of people being detained under Trump's order.
The Department of Homeland Security earlier Saturday issued a statement to release all green-card holders who had arrived in the United States on Friday or Saturday. However, the Massachusetts judges' order included categories beyond green-card holders.
Donnelly acted on a petition earlier Saturday that sought to release Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi from detention at JFK Airport. The ACLU, the International Refugee Assistance Project, the National Immigration Law Center and a Yale Law School legal clinic filed the order.
Darweesh was released early Saturday afternoon, according to aides to New York Democratic Reps. Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, who tried to free the men. Alshawi was released Saturday night, said a Nadler spokesman.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said one family was detained at Dulles. He called Trump's order one that will "breed hatred toward Americans around the globe."
In Philadelphia, a Syrian family of six with a visa through a family connection in the United States, was placed on a return flight to Doha, Qatar.
Trump's order allows for some exemptions at the discretion of administration officials, including "when the person is already in transit and denying admission would cause undue hardship." But border patrol officers have received little guidance on how to implement the order.
In the executive order, Trump bans for 90 days citizens of nations considered potentially "detrimental to the interests of the United States" from entering the country. The order doesn't specifically list the nations but they are defined by President Barack Obama in February 2016 as "countries of concern": Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Trump also suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days.
Trump said Saturday his government was "totally prepared" to deal with the order.
"It's working out very nicely," Trump told reporters during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office. "You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It's working out very nicely and we're going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years."
New Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and his leadership team saw details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said. Originally, HHS said the order did not affect people with green cards.
The White House later overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout, CNN reported. On a case-by-case basis, DHS could allow green-card holders to enter the United States.