WASHINGTON: Over 100,000 visas have been revoked as a result of President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, an attorney for the government revealed in Alexandria federal court Friday.
The number came out during a hearing in a lawsuit filed by attorneys for two Yemeni brothers who arrived at Dulles International Airport last Saturday. They were coerced into giving up their legal resident visas, they argue, and quickly put on a return flight to Ethiopia.
“The number 100,000 sucked the air out of my lungs,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center, who represents the brothers.
The government attorney, Erez Reuveni from the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation, could not say how many people with visas were sent back to their home countries from Dulles in response to the travel ban. However, he did say that all people with green cards who came through the airport have been let into the United States.
For people like the brothers, Tareq and Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz, who tried to enter the country over the weekend with valid visas and were sent back, the government appears to be attempting a case-by-case reprieve. They and other plaintiffs in lawsuits around the country are being offered new visas and the opportunity to come to the U.S. in exchange for dropping their suits.
Virginia Solicitor General Stuart Raphael said such a piecemeal approach was not sufficient, since it is not clear how many people were turned away at Dulles or other airports. The state had sought to join the suit, saying it impacted many state residents.
“There’s something very troubling about the way this is playing out,” Raphael said. “While I am pleased that they are willing to whisk people back if they come to our attention, they won’t come to our attention if we don’t know who they are.”
He said, for instance, that Virginia officials have learned that a George Mason University student from Libya is stuck in Turkey due to the ban.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema allowed Virginia to join the Aziz brothers’ suit.
Noting that she presided over the case of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, Brinkema said she had never before faced such interest in a legal dispute. Other judges dealing with lawsuits against the order around the country, she said, have told her of similar experiences.
“I have never had so much public outpouring as I’ve seen in this case,” she said. “This order touched something in the United States that I’ve never seen before. It’s amazing.”
For the order itself, she had some harsh words, though she said the president has “almost unfettered” power in the realm of borders and national security.
“It’s quite clear that not all the thought went into it that should have gone into it,” Brinkema said. “There has been chaos. . .without any kind of actual hard evidence that there is a need” to revoke visas already granted. People had relied on their visas as valid, she said; families had expected to be reunited with loved ones.
Bringing back individuals who have sued after failing to get into the country is a good step, she said, but “I don’t think it’s far enough.”
Outside the courthouse, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he was “really pleased the judge recognized real harm is happening in Virginia.”
Brinkema declined to hold government officials in contempt for the way they handled travelers from the seven banned countries over the weekend, saying she did not know enough Friday to make that determination. Virginia had cited news reports and affidavits from lawmakers that, contrary to an order Brinkema issued last weekend, Customs and Border Patrol officers denied immigrants access to lawyers.
“There were so many lawyers there willing to help, and not a single one got access,” Raphael said. Reuveni said that security at Dulles bars lawyers from anything but telephone access to people in screening. Brinkema said she would expand the order and extend it another week but has not yet released the details.