President Trump continued Monday to adamantly defend his immigration order temporarily banning entry into the United States for migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees from around the world.
In a series of tweets, Trump sought to minimize its impact on travelers following confusion, angst and two days of protests that have erupted across the country since he signed the order. His comments came after White House officials, responding to the widespread uncertainty about the order, held a briefing with reporters Sunday evening to argue that the order’s rollout was “a massive success story.”
Earlier that day, Trump sought to clarify the exact reach of his ban, saying in a statement that his action “is not a Muslim ban.” But questions remain over the exact limits of its scope, legal questions about its constitutionality and whether the Trump administration will comply with orders from federal judges to temporarily halt the travel ban.
Intense protests cropped up in airport terminals from coast to coast on Saturday and Sunday, meaning both weekends of Trump’s presidency so far have been marked by heavy public demonstrations against him. Tens of thousands of people protested his immigration order outside the gates of the White House, in Boston’s Copley Square and in New York’s Battery Park, with its views over the Statue of Liberty.
On Monday morning, Trump posted a string of tweets saying that the order had only a minimal impact, while blaming “big problems at airports” on other factors, including the demonstrators themselves, an airline’s technical problems and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who teared up while discussing the ban.
“Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning,” Trump tweeted. “Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage…..protesters and the tears of Senator Schumer.”
The Delta outage he cited did not occur until Sunday evening, when the airline’s IT systems went down for a few hours, causing about 250 flights to be canceled that night and Monday.
Trump also wrote that Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly “said that all is going well with very few problems. MAKE AMERICA SAFE AGAIN!” In other messages, Trump again cast his order as necessary to protect the country:
However, the seven countries under Trump’s ban do not include several that have been tied to terrorists involved in major attacks or attempted plots in the United States. Trump’s aides continued over the weekend to point to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Boston Marathon bombing and San Bernardino, Calif., shooting rampage, none of which involved people born in countries listed on the ban.
Trump, who centered his campaign in part on his vow to crack down on illegal immigration and to impose what he pitched during the presidential contest as a “Muslim ban,’’ remained undaunted Sunday. Not long before the White House released a statement saying it was not a religious ban, Trump had tweeted, “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!”
The order has already sparked quick judicial action. Four federal judges put various holds on the ban, and other courts are expected to consider similar stays, with more legal challenges likely to come. A group of 16 state attorneys general said Sunday they believe the executive order is unconstitutional, presaging what could be an intense round of legal action against it.
Scenes of relief, anxiety and sorrow played out around the globe over the weekend following Trump’s move to sign the order Friday.
At Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, a 70-year-old Iranian woman who recently received her green card was released after being detained overnight. In New York City, a graduate student contemplated whether he would quit his doctoral program to rejoin his wife in Iran after she was blocked from returning to the United States.
And in Iraq, a man who had risked his life working on behalf of the U.S. government bleakly wondered about his future and that of his wife and three children. Visas in hand, the family was due to fly Monday to the United States. “It’s like someone’s stabbed me in the heart with a dagger,” he said.
Trump issued a statement late Sunday afternoon that offered little clarity, even as he defended his executive order as necessary to protect the United States from terrorism. He also reiterated that the country would resume issuing visas to all countries “once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”
Still, in the days after he signed the order, confusion reigned over its reach and its implementation. Even as the president and other top advisers defended the ban, some Trump officials appeared on Sunday to walk back one of the most controversial elements of the action: its impact on green-card holders, who are permanent legal residents of the United States.
“As far as green-card holders going forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” contradicting what government officials had said only a day earlier.
In a separate statement, Kelly, the homeland security secretary, was less definitive, suggesting that green-card holders’ status would help them gain entry to the country but that they nonetheless would be subject to a “case-by-case” review.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s department indicated separately Sunday that it would continue to implement Trump’s directive, even as it said it “will comply with judicial orders” issued by federal judges over the weekend, blocking enforcement of the ban to varying degrees.
“Prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety,” the agency said in a statement. “No foreign national in a foreign land, without ties to the United States, has any unfettered right to demand entry into the United States or to demand immigration benefits in the United States.”
Trump’s virtually unprecedented executive action applies to migrants and U.S. legal residents from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya and Yemen, and to refugees from around the world. People subject to the ban include dual nationals born in one of the seven countries who also hold passports from U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom.
Protests at airports were also joined by uncertainty and more confusion. At Dulles International Airport, lawyers seeking to represent people who had been detained failed to get information from Customs and Border Protection officials despite repeated attempts.
Even three Democratic members of Congress — Reps. Gerald E. Connolly, Don Beyer of Virginia and Jamie Raskin of Maryland — ran into similar roadblocks. Connolly pressed an airport police officer to get a Customs and Border Protection official to meet with the lawmakers to tell them how many people were detained and to see whether they had been able to communicate with their attorneys.
“Are people being detained?” Connolly asked the officer. “How can you enforce the law if you’re not enforcing a judge’s order?”
Connolly soon was on the phone with a CBP congressional affairs official. He and the other members pressed for information on possible detainees, including those traveling on a flight from Turkey. No one on site from the agency would meet with them.
“That is unacceptable. It is our understanding you are detaining people,” Connolly said. “Our understanding is you have not followed that [court] order.”
The president’s far-reaching action triggered a wave of criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who plan to assemble Monday on the steps of the Supreme Court in a show of solidarity with legal attempts to block Trump’s travel ban. In addition, at least one House member said he plans to introduce legislation to overturn Trump’s action by forcing him to comply with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which banned discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin.
Trump also encountered growing opposition Sunday from lawmakers in his own party.
“You have an extreme vetting proposal that didn’t get the vetting it should have,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” even as he stopped short of opposing the order outright.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) also spoke out against the action, saying in a joint statement that the government has a responsibility to defend its borders but must uphold “all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”
“It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted,” they said, adding, “Such a hasty process risks harmful results.” (Trump responded with a tweet criticizing them.)
The Department of Homeland Security noted that “less than one percent” of international air travelers arriving Saturday in the United States were “inconvenienced” by the executive order — though the situation described by lawyers and immigrant advocates across the country was one of widespread uncertainty and disorder at airports where travelers from the targeted countries were suddenly detained.
Federal judges began stepping in late Saturday as requests for stays of Trump’s action flooded courtrooms.
A federal judge in New York temporarily blocked deportations nationwide. Her ruling was followed by similar decisions by federal judges in California, Virginia, Seattle and Boston.
Some Americans voiced agreement with Trump. “He doesn’t hate Muslims,” said Kelley Anne Finn of Manassas, Va., who was interviewed at Dulles Airport Sunday. “He doesn’t hate anybody. He’s trying to protect us.”
Administration officials said Sunday that they think it is possible for the White House to both comply with a judge’s order and continue enforcing Trump’s executive action. Their thinking is that the court order affects only people now in the United States, and that since the State Department is proactively canceling visas of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, other travelers who would be affected by the court order are not expected to be able to travel to the United States in the first place.
The officials pointed out that while the order affects deportations, the travelers stranded at U.S. airports are not legally considered to be deported if they go back to their home countries, because they were never technically admitted to the United States.
That interpretation of the law will almost certainly lead to more court battles in coming days and could keep overseas travelers detained at airports in a state of legal limbo. As Sunday wore on, it became clear that the answers to those questions would have to wait until another day.
The protesters outside the White House pushed on, wielding poster boards with messages such as “Islamophobia is un-American” and “Dissent is patriotic,” chanting “No justice! No peace!” and singing renditions of “This Land is Your Land.”
And in airports from Baltimore to Bangor, from Dallas to Denver, shouts of “Let them go!” and “Let them in!” reverberated Sunday. In many cities, demonstrators invoked the same chant: “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here.”
[This story has been updated since it was first published at 8:55 a.m. It will be updated throughout the day.]
Philip Bump in New York, Daniel Gross in Boston, and Michael Chandler, Steve Hendrix, Jenna Johnson, Sarah Larimer, Michael Laris, Ellen Nakashima, Ed O’Keefe, Abby Phillip, Kelsey Snell, Elise Viebeck and David Weigel in Washington contributed to this report.