Tribune Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee arrivals and banning travel to the U.S. from several Muslim-majority countries spawned chaos and consternation Saturday, igniting at least one legal challenge, causing unknown numbers of airline passengers to be turned away from U.S.-bound flights and raising questions about core American values.


A group of advocacy organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union Saturday filed legal action against the policy in New York, acting on behalf of two Iraqis who were stopped at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport hours after the order was signed. The writ seeks the release of the two Iraqis unless the government can show lawful grounds for their detention.


The groups bringing the action, which included the International Refugee Assistance Project and the National Immigration Law Center, said a separate motion sets the stage for a larger action involving other would-be refugees, visitors and immigrants stopped at other ports of entry.


Arab-American advocacy groups said Trump’s order was disrupting travel all over the world.


“We see complete chaos in the way this has been implemented. … Individuals overseas have not be able to board airplanes and fly back into the United States,” Abed A. Ayoub, legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said in a conference call Saturday. “It’s a complete ban on Muslims entering the country. This is tearing apart families. We have students overseas stuck there who can’t get back. We have students abroad who cannot return here at all.”


Another legal challenge was in the works. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it would file a federal lawsuit on behalf of more than 20 individuals challenging the order. The suit, to be filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Virginia, argues that the executive order is unconstitutional because of its apparent aim of singling out Muslims.


“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” the group’s national litigation director, Lena F. Masri, said in a statement. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”


Trump’s order, signed Friday, suspends all refugee entries for 120 days. It also indefinitely blocks Syrian refugees, and bars entry to the U.S. for 90 days to those traveling from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.


It was not initially clear whether the directive applied to green card holders from the affected countries — those with authorization to live and work in the United States.


Saturday, though, the Department of Homeland Security said it did, which vastly expanded the pool of people affected.


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The United Nations human rights agency issued a statement calling the long-standing U.S. refugee resettlement program “one of the most important in the world.” It called on the Trump administration to ensure that the U.S. “will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution.”


“We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race,” the agency said.


The prospect of reciprocal measures was raised almost immediately —— a factor that could affect Americans like aid workers, tourists and business travelers. Iran’s foreign ministry, condemning the executive order, said Saturday that Iran “reserves the right of reciprocity,” official media reported.


Trump’s order could also dampen hopes for negotiating the release of U.S. citizens held in any of the affected countries. Several Americans of Iranian descent are imprisoned in Iran on spy charges.


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(Bengali reported from Mumbai, India. Times staff writer Tracy Lien in San Francisco, Kurtis Lee in Los Angeles and special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim contributed to this report.)


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