Federal court in LA orders temporary halt to Trump ban on immigrant visas

A crowd listens to attorney Julie Ann Goldberg at her office in the country of Djibouti in east Africa on Jan. 31, 2017. Twenty-eight Yemenis she represents won a court order Tuesday from a Los Angeles-based federal judge temporarily stopping the enforcement of the Trump travel ban on those holding immigrant visas. They have been waiting in Djibouti for clearance to enter the country.
A crowd listens to attorney Julie Ann Goldberg at her office in the country of Djibouti in east Africa on Jan. 31, 2017. Twenty-eight Yemenis she represents won a court order Tuesday from a Los Angeles-based federal judge temporarily stopping the enforcement of the Trump travel ban on those holding immigrant visas. They have been waiting in Djibouti for clearance to enter the country. Courtesy of Julie Ann Goldberg

A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order that would stop enforcement of President Donald Trump's temporary ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for those coming on immigrant visas.

Such visas are different from those held by students, business travelers, visitors and others. But the court order would apply to legal permanent residents with green cards, and those with valid immigrant visas that have already been issued, attorney Julie Ann Goldberg told KPCC.

Her firm brought a class-action suit Tuesday involving more than two dozen people from Yemen who are unable to travel to Los Angeles under the president's executive order, which bars travel from countries that the administration views as harboring terrorists.

The plaintiffs had been waiting to travel to the United States from Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa. The Yemenis had left their country because of a civil war. 

Goldberg, speaking by phone from Djibouti, said many of the Yemenis have U.S. citizen relatives thanks to previous migration, and have been sponsored by them to come to the U.S. She said the executive order issued Friday left people with valid visas unable to travel.

"These 28 people were not allowed to pick up their passports (from the U.S. Embassy). I have some families that are pretty devastated. I have a father who had his visa issued, and he got his passport, but his four-year-old child's is still at the embassy. It has created this separation among families," she said. 

The order issued by District Court Judge André Birotte Jr. in Los Angeles Tuesday night directs federal agencies to stop "removing, detaining, or blocking the entry of Plaintiffs, or any other person from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen with a valid immigrant visa..." under the Trump travel ban.

Goldberg said the current court action affects U.S. citizens and their spouses and children who hold immigrant visas. She said she plans to add additional plaintiffs to the original complaint, including more than 200 others who were bound for the U.S. and are stuck in transit.

Among those to be reunited with family members in the U.S. but who are waiting in Djibouti include two young children, 3 and 6, who have been left waiting there with relatives, Goldberg said.

The judge also ordered the government to return plaintiffs' passports to them, and to immediately inform authorities at Los Angeles International Airport and International Airport in Djibouti to allow them to travel.

Los Angeles-based attorney Daniel Covarrubias-Klein, who works with Goldberg, told KPCC that some of the Yemenis affected have waited months or longer in Djibouti as they await permission to travel to the U.S. 

"What the order is saying is, 'Look, on a temporary basis, don't cancel their visas,'" Covarrubias-Klein said.

It is not clear if officials will follow the court order.

The Associated Press reported the State Department declined to comment on Judge Birotte's order because it said it does not comment on pending lawsuits.

But according to AP, the State Department ordered all visas from the seven countries revoked on Friday, and the government has maintained that orders similar to Birotte's do not apply because the visas are no longer valid.

The court order is among the latest in a flurry of legal actions taken by judges across the country since U.S. immigration officials began enforcing the president's travel ban.

Dozens of people traveling from the seven countries were detained at LAX over the weekend, some held for up 12 hours or more while they were questioned before they were released. The detentions prompted mass protests at the airport and elsewhere in the country.

Goldberg said this judge's order is different from others issued so far in that it reaches those overseas who had valid immigrant visas to travel, and demands that the U.S. government allow them to continue. She said the order has been served and that a federal judge has entered an appearance on the docket. But so far, she said, she has not seen authorities comply with it.

"No one is responding," she said, "but my clients are still not getting clearance to get on an airline." 

This story has been updated.

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