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Yemenis, relatives wait for visas for spouses, children despite LA court order

Immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. listen to attorney Julie Ann Goldberg at her office in the state 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, but on Thursday, the plaintiffs were still waiting to travel.
Immigrants seeking to enter the U.S. listen to attorney Julie Ann Goldberg at her office in the state 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, but on Thursday, the plaintiffs were still waiting to travel.
Courtesy of Julie Ann Goldberg

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A court order signed by a federal judge last weekend allowed an Iranian immigrant to return to the U.S. Thursday after he was sent back from Los Angeles under President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban, but a group of Yemenis have not been as lucky.

More than two dozen Yemeni immigrants have been waiting to fly to Los Angeles but have not yet been allowed to travel despite another court order signed by a Los Angeles-based federal judge Tuesday night.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr.'s order directs U.S. officials to release passports to 28 Yemenis, all relatives of U.S. citizens or legal residents, who are waiting to travel to Los Angeles from the tiny east African state of Djibouti.

They were ready to pick up their passports with immigrant visas from the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti and fly to L.A. when Trump's executive order was issued Friday barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Yemen. 

Birotte's order directed federal agencies to refrain from blocking the entry of the Yemeni plaintiffs and any other person from the seven countries holding a valid immigrant visa. 

But attorney Julie Ann Goldberg, who is representing the Yemeni immigrants, told KPCC from Djibouti on Thursday that there has been no response from embassy officials since the court order was granted.

She said a group of immigrants went to the U.S. embassy in Djibouti to check on the status of their passports and visa applications. Goldberg gave embassy officials a copy of the court order, but they received no reply.

“We kept asking, 'Look, we have this court order. We want the passports back. Please give them back to us,'…we got absolutely no answer,” she said.

Several of her clients said in video clips supplied by Goldberg that they were first told by embassy staff to wait outside and that someone would talk to them. Then security guards and Djibouti police arrived and told them to leave.

Goldberg said if there is no response by Monday, attorneys in Los Angeles will ask the court to find the officials in contempt.

Goldberg planned to expand the lawsuit that triggered Birotte's order to include others who have been affected by the ban, including Yemeni immigrants who were bound for the U.S. but were stopped en route and turned back to Djibouti. The tiny African state has been receiving Yemenis who are fleeing a civil war in their country.

U.S. State Department officials said they won’t comment on pending litigation. But they said in a statement that to comply with Trump’s executive order, the department has revoked “relevant visas,” and these are no longer valid for travel.  

The president's executive order suspends travel from seven countries that the administration views as harboring terrorists — Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Libya — while the administration works to develop tighter screening procedures. While some critics have called the executive order a "Muslim ban," Trump has denied that is the case, although he had called for exclusion of Muslims after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015.

Last weekend, the travel ban ensnared permanent legal residents holding green cards as well as those with immigration visas arriving at LAX. Some were held for 12 hours or more as immigration officials questioned the travelers.

Speaking on KPCC's AirTalk Thursday, ACLU of Southern California legal director Ahilan Arulanantham said travelers are still being detained, although the hours they are held have been shorter on average than that experienced by travelers last weekend.