A federal judge in Brooklyn blocked part of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering United States in an emergency hearing. A Yale Law School team, working around the clock over the weekend, played a significant role in convincing the judge.

Early Saturday morning, the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at the Law School — which represents immigrants and low-wage workers in a variety of cases — joined the nation’s leading civil rights groups in filing the first legal challenge to the Trump administration on behalf of two Iraqi refugees detained at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Judge Ann Donnelly of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in their favor, issuing a temporary stay at the national level on Saturday night. The ruling came as large crowds of protesters flocked to major airports to denounce Trump’s ban while lawyers across the country came to the aid of the detained immigrants.

“The executive order is blatantly unconstitutional, motivated by naked discrimination, based on national origin and religious affiliation,” said former Law School Dean Harold Koh, who served as Legal Adviser of the Department of State for four years under the Obama administration. “As a former government national security lawyer, I see no rational national security basis for such wildly overbroad immigration restrictions.”

“The reported lack of interagency legal vetting of the order only further proves that the order was driven by rank prejudice, not valid governmental needs,” Koh added.

The plaintiffs, Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, were detained at JFK airport last Friday despite valid travel documentation. According to the petition the Law School team drafted, they were targeted by terrorists back home for their connection with the U.S. Darweesh’s work for the U.S. government put him “in substantial risk of being targeted, attacked and killed by anti-American militias and insurgents” while Alshawi was thought by insurgents in Baghdad to be a collaborator, due to his family’s ties to the U.S. military.

Within hours of the executive order’s Friday afternoon passage, about 30 faculty and students at the Law School clinic have been working nonstop to draft petitions, motion for class certification and seek emergency stay for their clients, which Donnelly granted swiftly after the Saturday hearing. The team, in coalition with American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups, argued that stopping the plaintiffs and other similarly situated individuals from entering the U.S. would violate the clause of due process and equal protection of the Fifth Amendment, as well as international and immigration law.

In her ruling, Donnelly, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, pointed out the “irreparable harm” the removal of the stay would inflict upon the refugees. The two Iraqi men were both released from custody before the ruling. Advocates estimated that 100 to 200 people detained upon arrival in U.S. airports would benefit from the ruling.

“Today through advocacy both from lawyers and protesters on the ground, a lot of problems start to dissipate; but they are not gone,” Will Bloom LAW ’17, an intern at Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, the umbrella organization of WIRAC, said. He added that reports of U.S. Customs and Border Protection coercing immigrants to forgo their rights to remain in the country and people being put on planes against their wills kept coming in.

The initial suit focused primarily on people who are already in the U.S. or who are in transit when the order was announced. Bloom said the order targeted the group of people with the most risk of being sent back or coerced to give up their authorization. After the initial victory, the team proceeded to work to ensure that the ruling is obeyed on the ground and to question the constitutionality of Trump’s executive order.

“This is the first step in litigation,” Bloom said. “There’s likely to be more executive actions. From what we’ve been seeing from the administration it’s not clear what the administration’s going to do but we’re going to be ready for whatever it is.”

Melissa Marichal LAW ’18, another student intern at the LSO, said the group saw the case as a continuation of the clinic’s work to protect the civil and constitutional rights of immigrant communities.

Marichal added that she and her teammates are taking shifts to ensure that at least one student is available at all times to respond to any reports of noncompliance. Bloom said he had been getting minimal sleep but all of the team members, who have been up late editing motions, are “tired but energized.”

The White House maintained on Sunday that the ruling does not undercut the executive order, but scaled back on the ban late Sunday to allow people holding green cards from the affected countries to return to the U.S.

David Yaffe-Bellany contributed reporting.

Correction, Jan. 30: An earlier version of this article misstated the time at which Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi were released relative to the judge’s ruling. 

  • Nancy Morris

    The significance of the courtroom antics of the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at the Law School and former YLS Dean Koh are overstated here, and the injunctions issued so far benefit no more than a couple of hundred people caught in airport limbo when Trump signed his order Friday afternoon. Koh’s insinuations to the contrary are bombastic nonsense and his Constitutional and statutory claims are downright silly. He should shut off the agitprop and stop embarrassing himself and YLS.

    “Obviously, this initial litigation is not on behalf of everyone who will be ultimately affected by the executive order,” said Lee Gelernt of the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued and won an order in New York Saturday night. “By sheer numbers it doesn’t affect as many people as would be affected by a lawsuit for people overseas.”

    A Trump administration official who briefed reporters on the executive order Sunday night explained:

    “The purpose of the executive order is to prevent the issuance of new visas until such time as responsible vetting measures can be put in place. The specific issue of travelers who were in transit during the EO’s [issuance] is by and large a one-time situation. … It’s a non-sequitur.”

    Yes, a bombastic, self-aggrandizing non-sequitur.

    The order is entirely secular by its terms, applies to people from the specified countries, halts refugee admissions while stricter vetting protocols are implemented, and makes no mention of religion at all, Trump himself explained on Sunday:

    “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country’s safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”

    In addition to misrepresenting both the Order and the importance of his own contributions, Koh gives no indication that, notwithstanding his prior experience, he grasps the national security concerns provided to support the Order, if only to disagree with them and suggest better ways to address such concerns. He makes no constructive comments whatsoever.

    And he gets the law all wrong. Federal courts have rarely accorded constitutional rights to foreigners outside the U.S. Koh’s claims of unconstitutional discrimination and the rest (Is the ex-Dean of the YLS really going to argue that there is no rational basis for this order?) are nonsensical with respect to such people (and they are almost everyone affected). His understanding of the relevant statutory law is as bad as his grasp of the Constitution. A 1952 immigration law gives the chief executive the power to bar “any class” of immigrants from the country if allowing them is deemed “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” The Order could have barred a “class” defined in religious terms, although it doesn’t.

  • 100wattlightbulb

    Every American since 9/11 has been “inconvenienced”. We cannot take shampoo, soap, lotion, or even water while traveling. We are radiated and must take off shoes, belts, and scarves. If we are super lucky, we are groped. Too damm bad if this is inconvenient for some.

    • groenima

      I’m just gobsmacked that you would compare the inconvenience of having to empty your water bottle before going through security to being detained and threatened with (before the temporary ruling) deportation despite already possessing a visa and/or green card. Is that the best argument you can make for this executive order?

      • yaleyeah

        Nobody was threatened. You SJW drama queens are the most annoying people in our society now. Obama bombed 5 out of these 7 countries and what did you do about that? That’s right — absolutely nothing. You are using immigrants as pawns to express your hatred for Trump, but let’s not pretend that you actually care. Nobody believes you.

        • groenima

          Bit of an ad hominem attack, no? As it happens, I’m not even close to being an SJW or a drama queen, and am quite often openly critical of the mess past President’s (Republican and Democrat) foreign policy has made in the Middle East. I think the refugee crisis is a huge problem with no easy answers. In this case though, I was questioning the logic of your comparison. Do you see the two situations as equal?

          • yaleyeah

            First there is no refugee crisis in Africa or Afghanistan but over half of the “refugees” are coming from these countries. They are over 90% young males — not families. These people are flooding the EU for the free stuff. That is obvious.

            Obama should be tried for what he did to Libya. It wasn’t perfect, but in that region, it was one of the better countries to live in. I simply question this sudden eruption of outrage over a temporary 90 day ban, while Obama created a lot of the underlying problems in that region and every one of these folks would have voted him back in, if they could have. It’s total hysteria, just like we saw on Berkeley’s campus. The left is turning violent, intolerant, and very, very ugly. Nothing resembling rational going on. I will never, ever vote for a Democrat again, until they boot these people out of their party and denounce them.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Best of luck. Trump’s action is on all fours. Yes, the prez has that power.

  • yaleyeah

    Ummm… basic law 101. You have to prove harm in a court of law if you are going to sue. These guys were temporarily detained and let go. Where is the harm? Courts are not going to side against law enforcement doing their jobs.

    This is not about the law and it’s not about caring about immigrants. It’s about using them as a vehicle to express hatred for Trump. Obama bombed 5 out of these 7 countries — 3 of them without provocation. No protests at Yale over that. Total f’g hypocrites, using immigrants as pawns to suit an agenda. Disgusting.

    • Ralphiec88

      Which countries Obama bombed makes a nice talking point, but it’s utterly irrelevant to refugee policy.

      • yaleyeah

        No, it isn’t Ralphie, because the Yale Law School turned a blind eye to bombing civilians and completely destroying Libya, because Obama was doing it. Now, they’ve suddenly got a new-found compassion for oppressed people. Not buying it. These people are nothing but liars.

        • Ralphiec88

          This is the kind of generalization, spin, and false equivalence that’s just so cherished by outlets on the right. Seriously, do you believe Obama was intentionally bombing civilians? Do you recall yourself piously protesting at the time? Is Yale one person or many? Would you even know if there were protests at Yale at the time? (BTW there were). When you can’t attack the message, you find a way to be disgusted with the messenger.

          • yaleyeah

            There is no message. It is a temporary ban that the majority of Americans support. For the left to erupt like this over such a minor issue — it’s hysteria. And, yes, I am thoroughly disgusted with what I’m seeing happen on Yale’s campus.