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A closer look at the legal and political brawl over the Trump immigration order

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An executive order signed on Friday afternoon by President Donald Trump sparked a weekend of protests at major airports around the country, as immigration officials detained dozens of foreign travelers who had already been approved for travel to the United States, and a series of federal judges barred the feds from deporting those who had been detained.

Let’s take a look at what’s involved and what’s at stake.

1. Who are the people who have been stopped at airports? The people who have been detained are foreign travelers who did have valid documents to get into the United States. The weekend controversy does not involve people who decided one day to buy a plane ticket from somewhere around the world and fly to the United States, hoping to get in. These people had a proper visa and valid entry documents for their trip, but got caught up in the enforcement of the new Trump executive order. It resulted in scenes like this when someone was finally released.

2. Major airports became the center of protests. Airports like JFK outside New York, Dulles outside Washington, LAX and other airports that hosted international arrivals became ground zero for a sudden protest against the Trump order. But it was more than just a demonstration, as teams of lawyers descended on those airports, setting up temporary work facilities, filing habeas corpus petitions and demanding meetings with those who had been detained.

3. What have the courts done? Federal judges at least five states, California, New York, Virginia, Washington State and Massachusetts have all weighed in on how to handle people with valid documents who were stopped at airports – some judges issued a temporary stay, preventing those who were detained from being forced to get on a plane back to their country of origin. Those rulings certainly don’t mean that President Trump won’t be able to enforce his immigration order, as it only touches a small part of the process. It’s a reminder that just as the courts got in the way of President Obama’s immigration actions, they can also do the same with President Trump.

4. Some people may get to try again to enter the U.S. A federal judge in California has ordered the Trump Administration to allow someone – who was already stopped at a U.S. airport, and sent back to the Middle East – to fly back to this country, and be admitted. Ali Khoshbakhti Vayeghan had arrived on Saturday, and was detained by immigration authorities at Los Angeles International Airport; before lawyers could get a hearing to obtain his freedom, he was put back on a plane to Dubai, and told to return to his home country of Iran. But a federal judge says the U.S. must allow Ali Khoshbakhti Vayeghan to return to the U.S.

5. Is this a Muslim ban or not? For critics of President Trump, that’s exactly what this move is, a ban on Muslims coming into the United States. But that’s not exactly what is happening. Yes, individuals from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen have their refugee applications on hold, while the feds look at improving vetting procedures. But there are some other big Muslim nations that aren’t included, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Five of the seven countries named above actually were part of current law – a bill passed during the Obama Administration. President Trump said on Sunday, the media is not telling the truth about his plans.

6. The Trump plan would not have stopped some attacks. As the White House pushed back against critics of the President’s executive order, top aide Kellyanne Conway specifically said that such a plan would have prevented several terror attacks that took place in the U.S. during the Obama Administration. But when you look at several of those incidents, they don’t easily translate into any assurances that the San Bernardino shooters, the Boston Marathon bombers, or the Orlando shooter would have been stopped. The Orlando gunman who shot up the Pulse nightclub was born in the United States; the Boston Marathon bombers were originally from Russia, and the San Bernardino shooters had ties to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – none of those countries are on the Trump list.

7. Some Republicans don’t get on board with Trump. While there were certainly Democrats who attacked the details of the Trump order, there were also some Republicans also raising red flags. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) labeled it a “broad and confusing” order; his colleague from the Volunteer State, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said it had been “poorly implemented.” Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) said the orders were “hastily issued.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was more direct, saying the Trump plan had not been “properly vetted.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said it was too “broad,” a word that was used by other GOP lawmakers as well. But it is important to note that most Republicans seemed to be behind the Trump move – though they thought the roll out was a bit messy.

8. Already one change made in the Trump plan. At first, travelers who had valid “green cards,” which allow you to permanently reside and work in the United States, were being stopped at airports. On Sunday, Trump Administration officials made clear that Green Card holders would no longer be stopped, even if they are from the seven countries that have had refugee admissions put on hold. One thing that is still unclear is how dual citizens are treated, especially if they are from one of those seven nations originally, as the full meaning of this order is still being hashed out.

9. Didn’t President Obama do something similar? All through the weekend, people told me on social media that President Trump was on solid ground, because President Obama had used his authority to block Iraqis from coming to the U.S. But even some in the Republican Party saw this as a broader move, since it hit not only refugees, but also lawful permanent residents, and non-immigrant family members. “From a legal standpoint, it’s night and day,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who has turned into one of the most frequent critics in Congress of the new President.

10. The Bottom Line – Trump moves ahead with new immigration rules. Yes, it may have sparked a weekend of protests. Yes, the President may have had setbacks in some federal courts, and had some in his own party raise red flags. But as the new work week begins, President Trump’s effort to tighten reviews for refugees and others entering the United States was moving forward. “Early wins against Trump immigration order may not last,” read the headline Sunday night on Politico. That’s an important point to remember.  The ultimate battleground for this may be the courts, instead of the political arena.

And as the President tweeted on Monday morning, he is not backing down. “This was a big part of my campaign.”


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