new york // A defiant Donald Trump stood by his controversial Muslim travel ban on Sunday amid mounting protests, legal challenges and threats of legislation to overturn it.
“Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW. Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!” the US president wrote on social media.
In his most sweeping action since taking office this month, Mr Trump last week ordered a 120-day hold on allowing refugees into the United States, an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day bar on citizens of seven Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The sudden action caused chaos over the weekend at airports in the US and throughout the world, with passengers holding valid visas and US residency cards nevertheless prevented from boarding flights or detained on arrival in America.
Protests began on Saturday night and continued on Sunday at airports in Seattle, New York, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Newark in New Jersey, Portland in Oregon and Fairfax, Virginia, where Dulles airport serves Washington, DC.
Federal judges in Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington followed one in New York in barring authorities from deporting travellers affected by the ban. The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Matthew Segal, said the rulings were “a huge victory for justice”.
“We told president Trump we would see him in court if he ordered this unconstitutional ban on Muslims,” Mr Segal said. “He tried, and federal courts in Boston and throughout the nation stopped it in its tracks.”
The US department of homeland security said it would comply with the court rulings.
However, officials said they would continue to implement Mr Trump’s order “to ensure that those entering the United States do not pose a threat to our country or the American people”.
US senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer demanded that Mr Trump reverse the ban, which made the United States appear “less humanitarian, less safe, less American”.
“It must be reversed immediately, and Democrats are going to introduce legislation to overturn it,” Mr Schumer said.
In the UAE, airlines had to turn some passengers away as a result of the travel ban. An Emirates spokesman said the airline continued to comply with guidance provided by US customs and border protection.
“A very small number of our passengers travelling were affected by the new US immigration entry requirements,” he said. “Where applicable, we are assisting the affected travellers with their flight rebookings. Passengers are responsible for ensuring they have the required documents for their travel.”
Emirates, which flies to 12 US cities, also said none of its crew members, who are drawn from countries around the world, were affected by the change. Airline crew from the seven banned countries would also be subject to the ban if working on a US-bound flight.
The airline said it had “made the necessary adjustments to our crewing, to comply with the latest requirements. Emirates continues to operate flights to the US as scheduled.”
An Etihad Airways spokesman said: “We are continuing to work closely with US customs and border protection agency both here in Abu Dhabi and in the US on the immigration issues presented over the weekend.”
Etihad passengers flying to the US are screened and have their passports stamped by US customs and porder protection agents in Abu Dhabi rather than on arrival in the US. The spokesman said a number of passengers had been affected. “We are continuing to assist them to identify issues before they fly to the US.”
Dubai Airports, operator of the world’s busiest airport for international travel, said it was “monitoring the situation”.
The US embassy in Abu Dhabi said the issue of US visas to citizens of the seven banned countries had been suspended until further notice.
“If you are a national or dual national of one of the listed countries, please do not schedule a visa appointment or pay any visa fees,” it said.
“If you already have an appointment scheduled, please do not attend your appointment as we will not be able to proceed with a visa interview.”
The embassy said official government travel or travel on behalf of designated international organisations was not affected.
“This suspension provided for in the executive order will allow us to review current screening procedures, while protecting national security – our top priority when issuing visas,” said a US embassy official.
“The US government’s national security visitor screening and vetting procedures are constantly reviewed and refined to improve security and more effectively identify individuals who could pose a threat to the US.
“We welcome every opportunity to continue to review and improve our systems and procedures. We are reviewing the executive order and working closely with the department of homeland security to implement it immediately.”
* Reporting by Caline Malek and agencies