US judge deals severe legal blow to Trump travel ban

A US federal judge on Friday ordered a temporary, nationwide halt to President Donald Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, in the most severe legal blow to the controversial measure.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, center, talks to reporters Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, following a hearing in federal court in Seattle. A U.S. judge on Friday temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States after Washington state and Minnesota urged a nationwide hold on the executive order that has launched legal battles across the country.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Los Angeles // A US federal judge on Friday ordered a temporary, nationwide halt to President Donald Trump’s ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, in the most severe legal blow to the controversial measure.

The restraining order issued by Seattle US District Judge James Robart is valid nationwide pending a full review of a complaint filed by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“The constitution prevailed today,” Mr Ferguson said, describing the judge’s decision as historic. “No one is above the law — not even the president.”

“It is not the loudest voice that prevails in a courtroom, it’s the constitution,” he added, pointing out that Judge Robart was appointed by Republican president George W Bush.

But the White House quickly hit back, making clear it was ready for a drawn-out battle. It initially denounced the decision as “outrageous” but later removed the word from its statement.

“At the earliest possible time, the justice department intends to file [for] an emergency stay of this order and defend the executive order of the president, which we believe is lawful and appropriate,” a statement said.

“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people.”

Friday’s ruling was not the first to challenge the travel ban, but it was the most sweeping as it effectively vacated the main tenets of the order.

Mr Ferguson said the order technically means that anyone with a valid visa must be allowed entry into the country by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

But it was unclear whether the Trump administration would succeed in challenging it, leaving travellers in limbo over their legal status.

Mr Ferguson had filed a suit to invalidate key provisions of Trump’s executive order which bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entry into the US for 90 days. Refugees from countries other than Syria are barred from entry for 120 days.

The State Department said on Friday that up to 60,000 people from the seven targeted countries had their visas cancelled as a result of the order. A justice department lawyer, however, told a court hearing in Virginia that about 100,000 visas had been revoked.

“We are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and our legal teams to determine how this affects our operations. We will announce any changes affecting travellers to the United States as soon as that information is available,” the department said in a statement.

Mr Trump’s executive order created chaos at airports across the United States and beyond as some travellers were detained or deported, prompting an uproar by rights groups and immigration attorneys.

Several hundred people of all ages and backgrounds demonstrated in New York for a second consecutive evening on Friday, denouncing Trump’s travel ban. They staged their rally in Queens, the New York borough where the president was born.

*Agence France-Presse