Originally published on Al Jazeera on February 2, 2017
Los Angeles, United States – A federal court in the state of California has issued a temporary restraining order blocking US immigration authorities from implementing President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans people from seven Muslim-majority countries, according to a court document seen by Al Jazeera [PDF].
But no one is complying, say several of the attorneys battling the ban at airports – not the immigration authorities detaining US residents from those countries, and just as importantly, not the airlines.
The order is broader than an earlier federal court order issued in New York on Saturday. The earlier order applies to those already in transit; the order issued this week affects US visa and green card holders abroad who may have already been returned to their countries.
The new court order also nullifies documents that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents and other immigration authorities may have required travellers to sign, revoking their immigration permissions.
Attorneys gave Al Jazeera accounts of situations where airport detainees were asked to sign away residence permits, but a lack of information from authorities has made the accounts virtually impossible to independently verify at time of publication.
Al Jazeera on Wednesday reported that immigrants from the seven countries were reportedly being coerced into signing away their residency status. Later, it was revealed that in addition to the executive order, the Justice Department had released a State Department notice requesting that visas for the seven countries be revoked. The notice was issued on January 27, but was not reported in US media until late on Tuesday, the 31st – in an indication of the Trump administration’s lack of transparency over newly declared policy.
Hundreds of lawyers have been working around the clock at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – one of the major sites of airport detentions as well as surging demonstrations in response that have cropped up across the country since Trump issued his ban on Friday. At these demonstrations, attorneys – their ranks bolstered by activists, politicians and, in some cases, celebrities – are leading the charge against the immigration ban.
Despite the federal court restraining order, on Thursday the airport attorneys expressed frustration that airlines continue to bar travellers from the affected countries. Some say it’s exacerbating what they consider to be a constitutional crisis in the US.
“It becomes very difficult, there’s mass confusion and the airlines don’t want to allow people to board planes,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center – one of the attorneys offering pro-bono support to people at the Los Angeles airport and those stuck abroad.
‘CBP is not above the law, and neither are airlines’
A legal source who spoke on condition of anonymity because that source was not authorised to speak to the press, identified a handful of European and Middle Eastern airlines reported to still be barring people from boarding flights to the US.
All were contacted by Al Jazeera. Only the Middle Eastern airlines Emirates and Etihad Airways had responded at time of publication.
“With regards to entry requirements for travel to/from the USA, Emirates continues to comply with the guidance provided to us by the US Customs and Border Protection,” an Emirates spokesperson told Al Jazeera in an email.
“We are continuing to work closely with the US Customs and Border Protection agency both here in Abu Dhabi and in the USA on the immigration issues presented over the weekend. Our joint interest is on ensuring that compliance and the wellbeing of all passengers is maintained across our global network,” an Etihad spokesperson told Al Jazeera in an email.
“A number of our passengers have been affected and we are continuing to assist them to identify issues before they fly to the US. Where permitted, the airline has offered changes or refunds and rebooked passengers, as per our updated policy,” the spokesperson added. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to further questions regarding the nature of the liability faced by airlines were they to comply with the recent court orders that they allow visa holders to travel to the US.
Some lawyers are hopeful that the airlines will soon change their minds and bring visa and green card-holders from the seven countries to the US.
“Hopefully the temporary restraining order that came out of Los Angeles today will allow people to board,” Toczylowski said.
Some attorneys are adamant that the airlines respond to calls from the US courts.
“CBP is not above the law, and neither are airlines,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter in the southern Californian city of San Diego. Ebadolahi spoke to Al Jazeera from the airport in San Diego, where she had just returned from New York, another epicentre of the airport detentions and demonstrations.
Ebadolahi said to expect more information on CBP and airline compliance on Thursday, US Pacific Standard Time.
Other attorneys are pleading with the international airlines in the name of what they say is a broader question of rule of law in the US.
‘It’s impossible to understand the extent of compliance or non-compliance’
Ameena Mirza Qazi is a civil rights lawyer, activist and executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, Los Angeles chapter. She is working against the ban at the Los Angeles airport. Qazi said: “It’s important that [the airlines] comply with the court orders to preserve the integrity of our judicial system.”
The travails with US immigration authorities of one particular traveller from Iran has been taken as a microcosm for the constitutional crisis Qazi describes – a lightning rod for activists concerned with the state of US civil liberties.
Activists were planning a protest at the Los Angeles airport on Thursday at noon, local time, for Ali Vayeghan, 52, an Iranian national whose residence status was revoked when he first arrived in Los Angeles on Friday.
Vayeghan is due to arrive again on Thursday, as activists rally outside the international arrivals terminal for his release, said Marcus Benigno, spokesman for the ACLU of Southern California advocacy group.
His arrival was awaited with great interest by activists and attorneys that Benigno had called to the event. Few understood fully the kind of treatment awaiting Vayeghan.
Attorneys have been denied access to detainees being held by airport authorities. Their phones – means of contacting family or documenting their treatment – are typically confiscated, according to reports from multiple legal sources.
“We have some evidence of coercion and detention, but it’s impossible to understand the extent of compliance or non-compliance [with the federal court restraining order this week] due to the lack of information LAX is giving us,” Qazi said.
CBP sent Al Jazeera multiple links to press releases on its website saying it would stand by the executive order. They did not offer any further comment. Trump’s press team did not respond to request for comment.