US travel ban takes effect, with lawyers on hand just in case

Under a Supreme Court ruling the 90-day ban includes visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 11:03pm

Lawyers and rights activists took up positions at major US airports as a weakened version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect late on Thursday.

But there were no signs of the chaos that erupted when the first version of the restriction, derided as discriminatory against Muslims, was abruptly imposed back in January.

No charge lawyers set-up makeshift, just-in-case legal aid stations – some with signs in Arabic – at airports serving New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and other cities, news reports said.

Protesters angry over Trump’s immigration policies also turned out, with some in Los Angeles holding black-and-white placards denouncing Trump as a fascist. But the first hours of the new version of the ban, as allowed by the Supreme Court, appeared to unfold calmly.

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We’re here just in case, to monitor, to tell people what’s going on, and to report back what we’re seeing

Gone were the dramatic scenes of some people arriving from seven mainly Muslim countries being detained and questioned for hours.

“We’re not really expecting any issues at the airport. But we’re here just in case, to monitor, to tell people what’s going on, and to report back what we’re seeing,” Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, said.

The Trump administration says the temporary ban is necessary to keep terrorists out of the country, but immigrant advocates said that it illegally singles out Muslims.

Under a Supreme Court ruling this week that allowed part of the ban to take effect – and ended, for now, five months of skirmishes in lower courts – the 90-day ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and a 120-day ban on refugees, will ­allow exceptions for people with “close family relationships” in the United States.

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Activists said the government has defined that too narrowly, excluding relationships with grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles and others.

The Department of Homeland Security, which was heavily ­criticised for mishandling many arrivals when the ban was first attempted in January, promised a smooth roll-out this time.

The department said that anyone with a valid visa issued before the ban began would still be admitted, and that all authorised refugees booked for travel before July 6 would also be allowed.

“We expect business as usual at the ports of entry starting at 8pm tonight,” a DHS official said.

Even as travel officials across the US made final preparations for putting the ban into place, opponents were preparing new legal challenges. Late on Thursday, ­Hawaii asked federal district Judge Derrick Watson to clarify the scope of the travel and refugee bans in the Pacific island state – and to define who, specifically, the ban refers to when stating that only an immigrant’s close family members can travel to the US.

“In Hawaii, ‘close family’ ­includes many of the people that the federal government decided on its own to exclude from that definition. Unfortunately, this severely limited definition may be in violation of the Supreme Court ruling,” the Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin said.