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White House hits back after federal judge blocks Donald Trump’s immigration ban

US District Judge James Robart issues temporary restraining order on a nationwide basis 

Saturday 04 February 2017 11:25 GMT
Donald Trump fights back after judge blocks his travel ban

The White House has hit back after a judge temporarily blocked Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban, initially describing the ruling as “outrageous” before omitting the word from a later statement.

The Justice Department said it would ask for an emergency stay to honour Donald Trump’s executive order to ban people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, after District Judge James Robart ruled there was a strong chance that a legal challenge against the ban would succeed.

Judge Robart issued a temporary restraining order on a nationwide basis at a hearing in Seattle and ruled against government lawyers who claimed states did not have the standing to challenge Mr Trump’s order.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are said to have told airlines they are allowed to board passengers who had been barred from entering the country, with the Justice Department not filing a motion immediately. Gulf carrier Qatar Airways said this morning that it would carry passengers from the seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees who had been banned under the order, according to a statement on the airline's website.

In his ruling Judge Robart said that federal defendants "and their respective officers, agents, servants, employees, attorneys and persons acting in concert or participation with them are hereby enjoined and restrained from" enforcing the executive order.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement following the ruling saying the government "will file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the President, which we believe is lawful and appropriate."

Soon after, a revised statement was released that removed the word "outrageous."

"The president's order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people," the statement said.

Mr Trump’s order bans travel for people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen and suspends the US refugee programme globally.

Washington and Minnesota were the first two states to sue over the order and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the travel ban significantly harms residents and mandates discrimination.

"Judge Robart's decision, effective immediately ... puts a halt to President Trump's unconstitutional and unlawful executive order," Mr Ferguson said.

"The law is a powerful thing — it has the ability to hold everybody accountable to it, and that includes the president of the United States."

The Trump administration has justified its actions on national security grounds, but opponents have labelled the order as unconstitutional as they belive it targets people based on religious beliefs.Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell said there was an "overwhelming amount of evidence" to show Mr Trump’s executive order was directed at the religion of Islam.

Judge Robart probed a Justice Department lawyer on what he called the "litany of harms" suffered by Washington state's universities, and also questioned the administration's use of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as a justification for the ban.

The Judge asked the federal government lawyer, Michelle Bennett, if there had been any terrorist attacks by people from the seven counties listed in Mr Trump's order since 9/11. Ms Bennet said she did not know.

"The answer is none. You're here arguing we have to protect from these individuals from these countries, and there's no support for that," Judge Robart said.

For President Trump's order to be constitutional, Judge Robart said, it had to be "based in fact, as opposed to fiction."

In Dubai, Tariq Laham, 32, and his fiancee Natalia had scrapped plans to travel to the U.S. after their July wedding in Poland, where Natalia is from.

Mr Laham told Reuters the couple would not reverse their decision.

"It is just too risky," said Laham, a Syrian who works as a director of commercial operations at a multinational technology company. "Everyday you wake up and there is a new decision."

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is under litigation, said: "We are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and our legal teams to determine how this affects our operations. We will announce any changes affecting travellers to the United States as soon as that information is available."

The State Department said the order had cancelled up to 60,000 visas. That figure contradicts a statement from a Justice Department lawyer who during a court hearing in Virginia said 100,000 visas had been revoked.

The decision in Washington state came at the end of a day of furious legal activity around the country over the immigration ban. In Boston, US District Judge Nathan Gorton expressed scepticism during oral arguments about a civil rights group's claim that Mr Trump's order represented religious discrimination, before declining to extend the restraining order.

US District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia, ordered the federal government to give the state a list by Thursday of "all persons who have been denied entry to or removed from the United States."

The state of Hawaii on Friday also filed a lawsuit alleging that the order is unconstitutional and asking the court to block the order across the country.

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