Even as President Donald Trump claimed last Saturday that his executive order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US was “working out very nicely”, US airports, particularly New York's JFK International Airport, a major entry point for people arriving in the US, presented scenes of chaos and pandemonium.
Indeed, there was a large protest at the JFK International Airport, with similar demonstrations at other airports in the nation, against the immigration curbs imposed by Trump.
Speaking to reporters at the Oval Office, Trump repeated his argument that the order was not meant to target Muslims and described the scenes at US airports that the ban was “working out very nicely”, according to a White House press pool report.
The orderly and efficient manner in which passengers are usually cleared at JFK airport was replaced by overcrowding of passenger entrance and exit gates amid loud protests, with demonstrators chanting anti-Trump slogans and calling his order unconstitutional.
Trump’s order affects citizens from Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Somalia, who are barred from entering the US for 90 days.
Authorities said this includes people with current visas who may have temporarily departed, some of whom were detained or turned around after attempting to return to the US.
Trump’s order also prevents all refugees from entering the US for 120 days and puts an indefinite halt on the entry of refugees from Syria. A US judge ordered the lifting of detention of an Iraqi translator who had worked for the US military in Iraq.
As Trump’s order was being enforced, airports, airlines and government agencies around the world went into a frenzy trying to interpret the instructions of the ban. Legal and human rights experts have criticised the sudden manner in which the order was issued.
But flights bound to the US from countries around the world began barring Iranians that did not have US passports.
At the ongoing New York Times Travel Show, where Malaysia is also showcasing its tourism attractions, some travel agents told Bernama on condition of anonymity that they had been asked by Etihad Airways, Emirates, and Turkish Airlines not to allow Iranians holding American visas to board US-bound flights.
Green card holders may also be affected
Many green-card holders - or permanent residents of the United States - holding passports of the seven countries were nervous as they did not know if they would also be affected.
Lawyers have advised them not to leave the country because there was a possibility that they may face problems on their return.
The immediate fallout from Trump’s order meant that an untold number of foreign-born US residents, who are now outside the US, could be barred from entering the country for at least 90 days - despite holding permanent residency “green cards” or other visas.
Foreign nationals who were allowed to board flights before the order was signed last Friday were detained at US airports, their fate uncertain as of Saturday evening. Trump billed his sweeping executive order as a necessary step to stop “radical Islamic terrorists” from coming to the US.
According to civil rights groups, Trump's executive order could block 500,000 legal US residents from returning to America from trips.
Trump’s order could also affect those holding long-term visas, such as students or employees who have the right to live in the United States for years at a time, and can make foreign trips without restrictions.
Trump made "extreme vetting" of foreigners a cornerstone of his election campaign, particularly those from countries that are predominantly Muslim and are considered hostile to the US.
"I'm establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don't want them here," Trump said, adding that “we want to ensure that we are not admitting to our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas".
The Department of Homeland Security says that about 25,000 citizens from the seven countries specified in Trump's ban have been issued student or employment visas in the past three years.
Over and above, nearly 500,000 people from the seven countries have received green cards - or permanent residence - in the past decade, allowing them to live and work in the United States indefinitely. Lawyers are also not sure if this category of immigrants would actually be barred from re-entering the US on returning from foreign trips.
Of the seven banned countries, Iran and Iraq account for the largest number of green card and visa holders. Nationals of Iran and Iraq alone received more than 250,000 green cards during the last decade. Students from Iran form the 11th largest group of foreign students in the US, according to a report from the Institute of International Education.