US must let those with immigrant visas enter: Judge

Activists gather at Terry Shrunk Plaza to protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in Portland, Oregon, US, on Jan 30, 2017.
Activists gather at Terry Shrunk Plaza to protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban in Portland, Oregon, US, on Jan 30, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • A federal judge has dealt another blow to US President Donald Trump's executive order barring some foreigners from coming into the US, in a ruling that added to the confusion over the legality of the immigration measure.

Using more sweeping language than in previous court rulings, Judge Andre Birotte Jr of the US District Court issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday evening requiring the government to allow in people with valid immigrant visas from the seven majority-Muslim countries Mr Trump sought to block.

The judge's order affects only people who are seeking to live in the US permanently and are taking the first steps to becoming legal residents. It does not include tourists or students trying to enter the country.

The order came in response to a complaint filed on behalf of 28 people from Yemen - US citizens and their family members who had remained in Yemen, but later received immigrant visas.

The visa holders have been stuck in an airport in Djibouti since Mr Trump issued his executive order last Friday, according to the complaint.

Like rulings in New York and Boston, Judge Birotte's order said that the plaintiffs would likely succeed in court on the merits and that they would also "likely suffer irreparable harm" without an injunction. Yemen is embroiled in a civil war with civilians in danger.

But unlike some other cases, Judge Birotte's ruling seemed to apply throughout the country, not just to Los Angeles International Airport. And while other orders had blocked the deportation of travellers, Judge Birotte explicitly wrote that the government could not detain them or block their entry into the country.

The ruling could affect hundreds of people who are in their home countries or stuck in airports in other countries, hoping that they would somehow be permitted to travel to the US.

In New York on Wednesday, new United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the US to lift the travel ban quickly.

"I think that these measures should be removed sooner rather than later," he told reporters. "Those measures indeed violate our basic principles, and I think that they are not effective if the objective is to, really, avoid terrorists to enter the United States."

US tech companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon are circulating an open letter to Mr Trump expressing their concern about the immigration order and offering help fixing it and other policies.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'US must let those with immigrant visas enter: Judge'. Print Edition | Subscribe