WASHINGTON — US authorities wasted no time implementing a new order by President Donald Trump halting Muslim arrivals, detaining travelers arriving at American airports within hours of him signing the measures, media reports said Saturday.
The New York Times reported that airport officials as early as Friday night began detaining travelers, some of whom already had been aboard their flights when Trump announced his executive order.
Two Iraqi men were detained Friday night at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. One of them had reportedly worked for the US government in Iraq for 10 years and the other was coming to America to join his wife, who had worked for a US contractor.
By Saturday afternoon, a dozen people had been detained, CNN reported.
Travel agents in Tehran said Saturday that foreign airlines were barring Iranians from traveling to the United States following Trump’s temporary order barring visas for seven Muslim countries.
Two Tehran agencies told AFP they had been instructed by Etihad Airways, Emirates and Turkish Airlines not to sell US tickets or allow Iranians holding American visas to board US-bound flights.
Trump imposed tough new controls on travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. He said it was part of his promise to protect the United States from Islamic terrorists.
The new US president signed a sweeping executive order on Friday to suspend refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travelers from the seven countries.
According to Reuters, a Department of Homeland security spokeswoman said that so-called green card holders from the seven muslim-majority countries mentioned in the executive order would be barred from entering the US as well.
“It will bar green card holders,” Gillian Christensen, acting Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said in an email.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch flag carrier KLM said it stopped seven passengers from boarding its flights, five of whom it had been able to contact before departure. “We would have liked to have had them fly with us, but it would not have made much sense because they would have been denied entry” to the United States, KLM spokesman Manel Vrijenhoek said.
An Iranian studying in California said she could not now return because her ticket had been cancelled under the new restrictions. “I had a ticket for Turkish Airlines on February 4, but it has been cancelled,” she said from Tehran.
Iran’s foreign ministry said it would “respond in kind” and ban Americans, “after the insulting decision of the United States concerning Iranian nationals.” It said the decision was “illegal, illogical and contrary to international rules.” More than a million Iranians live in the United States.
Trump was speaking by phone Saturday with various world leaders, amid growing international alarm and a legal challenge over his moves to drastically limit Muslim immigration and entrance.
In a flurry of telephone calls that started early in the morning and was to last throughout the day, Trump was to speak from the White House with five foreign leaders: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, France’s President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The conversations give the US president an early opportunity to explain new policies that have baffled and unnerved much of the rest of the world — particularly his order to temporarily halt all refugee arrivals and impose tough controls on travelers from seven Muslim countries including war-wracked Syria.
It also allows him to begin to develop ties with countries that have been close allies with the US in recent history, as well as Russia — a perennial foe, but a country with which Trump has said he is keen to improve relations.
Trump’s pronouncement on Muslim immigration to the US makes good on one of his most controversial campaign promises to subject travelers from Islamic countries to “extreme vetting,” which he declared would make America safe from “radical Islamic terrorists.”
“This is big stuff,” the new US president declared at the Pentagon on Friday, after signing an executive order entitled “Protection of the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.”
The decree suspends the entire US refugee resettlement program for at least 120 days while tough vetting rules are established.
The new protocols “ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States.”
In addition, they specifically bar Syrian refugees from the United States indefinitely, or until the president himself decides that they no longer pose a threat.
Meanwhile, no visas will be issued for 90 days to migrants or visitors from the seven mainly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The executive order also laid the groundwork for what Trump has pledged will be the “extreme vetting” of visa applicants’ backgrounds — with some exceptions made for members of “religious minorities,” a caveat many see as a way to apply favorable treatment to Christians from majority-Muslim states.
US rights group sue
US rights groups filed a legal challenge Saturday to Trump’s order. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups after two Iraqi men were detained Friday night at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. It seeks their release on grounds they are being held unlawfully.
International groups and civil liberties organizations roundly condemned the measures.
“‘Extreme vetting’ is just a euphemism for discriminating against Muslims,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Romero said Trump’s order breached the US constitution’s ban on religious discrimination by choosing countries with Muslim majorities for tougher treatment.
Ahmed Rehab, director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told AFP his group would mount legal challenges to fight the order “tooth and nail.”
“It is targeting people based on their faith and national origin, and not on their character or their criminality,” he told AFP.
Many foreign leaders, meanwhile, were aghast over the new US policy.
Speaking in Tehran Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did not comment directly on the visa ban but said Iran had “opened its doors” to foreign tourists since the signing of a nuclear agreement with world powers in 2015.
Now is “not the time to build walls between nations,” he said, in a reference to Trump’s plans to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.
But the US leader did get backing from Czech President Milos Zeman, who praised him for being “concerned with the safety of his citizens.”