Donald Trump faced mass protests and global outrage Sunday over his controversial ban on travellers from seven Muslim countries, facing the first real test of his nine-day administration.
The ban was criticised by allies, sparked confusion over its implementation and galvanised Democrats looking for a lightning rod to beat Trump. There was growing unease among Republican lawmakers as well.
Four federal judges moved to halt deportations, around 300 people were stopped or detained worldwide and US civil rights lawyers warned the battle could head to the Supreme Court.
Thousands of noisy demonstrators poured into the country's major airports for the second day in a row to show support for immigrants and refugees impacted by Trump's contentious travel restrictions.
Lawyers accompanied by interpreters set up shop in airports and fought for the release of those detained on arrival — many of them were in mid-air when Trump signed the decree.
The decree suspends the arrival of all refugees for at least 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely and bars citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
At least 109 people were held upon arrival to the United States despite holding valid visas. It was unclear how many were still detained late Sunday.
Top Trump aides downplayed the number as "a couple of dozen" as Canada said it would offer temporary residence to those stranded in the country by the ban.
Under fire from all quarters, Trump issued an official White House statement to deny it was a Muslim ban and blast the media for its coverage.
"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 safe," he said.
The decision — that falls short of his 2015 promise on the campaign trail to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States — ignited the biggest controversy since he took office.
Trump then took to Twitter to blast Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, fellow Republicans who criticised the ban. He called them "wrong," "weak on immigration" and "looking to start World War III."
The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong - they are sadly weak on immigration. The two...
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
...Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
The real estate tycoon, who has never previously held elected office, sees himself making good on a key but highly controversial campaign promise to subject travellers from Muslim-majority countries to "extreme vetting" — which he declared would make America safe from "radical Islamic terrorists."
The detention of travellers at US airports left families divided: a father was unable to reach his son's wedding, and a grandmother unable to meet her grandchildren. Iran called the ban a "gift to extremists."
Six Syrians were turned away from Philadelphia International Airport and sent back to Lebanon, a Beirut airport official said.
In New York, police estimated that 10,000 people gathered in protest at Battery Park across the river from the Statue of Liberty — America's famed beacon of freedom and immigration.
"Refugees are welcome here!" demonstrators shouted, some holding up signs recalling the Holocaust that read "Never Again." Trump signed the decree on Holocaust Memorial Day.
"It should send a chill down the spine of every American," the city's Democrat mayor Bill de Blasio said as the crowd chanted "impeach" in reference to Trump.
Thousands more protested outside the White House.
Protestors also gathered at Washington's Dulles Airport and airports in Los Angeles, Orlando and Sacramento. Hundreds demonstrated in Boston, with activists scheduling other rallies in Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City and Seattle.
While Trump cited the 11 September, 2001 attacks in explaining his move, none of the 9/11 hijackers' home countries — Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — were included in the measure. All of those countries are key US allies.
Uncertainty reigned over the ban's implementation, with some green card holders from the targeted countries saying they had been turned back or prevented from boarding flights to the US.
But the Trump administration officially clarified late Sunday that the permanent residents would be exempt from the ban.
The order affected dual nationals, but not Canadian or US dual passport holders. Britain — one of the several countries seeking clarification from Washington — said its nationals would not be subject to additional checks unless they travelled directly from one of the listed countries.
Trump will also honour a deal struck under his predecessor to accept refugees from remote Pacific camps, Australia's prime minister said amid the chaos.
In November, Canberra negotiated a "one-off" deal with the outgoing Obama administration to settle an unspecified number of the 1,600 boatpeople Australia held in offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
In addition to scathing criticism from abroad — from Tehran to Cairo to major European countries — Democratic and Republican lawmakers at home also hit out against the move seen by many as religious discrimination at the border.
Sixteen attorneys general from mostly Democrat-run states vowed to fight the order as unconstitutional.
Trump appeared to justify his order by writing on Twitter that Christians in the Middle East had been "executed in large numbers."
"We cannot allow this horror to continue!" he tweeted to his nearly 23 million followers, making no mention of Muslims who have been killed in greater numbers.
Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2017
Oscar-winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and the subjects of The White Helmets, an Oscar-nominated documentary, announced they would now not attend next month's Academy Awards.
Meanwhile, several world leaders and governments hit out at the immigration restrictions imposed by Trump.
Downing Street said on Sunday Prime Minister Theresa May does "not agree" with the restrictions and would intervene if they affected British nationals. While US immigration is a matter for Washington, "we do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking," London said.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted Britain "will protect the rights and freedoms of UK nationals home and abroad. Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality."
We will protect the rights and freedoms of UK nationals home and abroad. Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality — Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 29, 2017
European Union foreign policy supremo Federica Mogherini pledged the bloc would "continue to support, welcome and take care of those who flee from war".
"We will continue to celebrate for every wall that is torn down and for every new bridge that is built up. We will keep working for peace and coexistence. This is our history, this is our identity, our work and our commitment," added Mogherini.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not directly criticise Trump but said on his official Twitter account: "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada."
This tweet was followed by one showing him with a young refugee at a Canadian airport and another that used the hashtag #ACanadianIsACanadian, as his office confirmed Canadian passport holders including dual nationals were unaffected by the ban.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif slammed Trump's move as "a clear insult to the Islamic world" and said it "will be recorded in history as a great gift to extremists and their supporters".
Zarif said Trump's decision "only serves to provide a fertile ground for more terrorist recruitment by deepening the ruptures and fault-lines which have been exploited by extremist demagogues to swell their ranks".
His ministry said earlier it would reciprocate with a ban on Americans entering the country, though it will not apply to those who already have a valid visa.
Angela Merkel's spokesman said the German chancellor "regrets the entry ban" and "is convinced that even in the necessarily resolute battle against terrorism, it is not justified to place people from a certain origin or belief under general suspicion".
Berlin "will now examine the consequences" of the ban for German citizens with dual nationality affected by the decision, added the spokesman.
Indonesia "deeply regrets" the move "because we believe it would affect the global fight against terrorism and the refugees management negatively," foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir told AFP.
"It is wrong to link radicalism and terrorism with one particular religion," Nasir said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: "Welcoming refugees who are fleeing war is part of our duty."
"We must... ensure that this happens in a fair, just way and with solidarity ... This decision can only cause us concern."
Swedish foreign minister and deputy prime minister Margot Wallstrom called the decision "deeply unfortunate".
"This decision increases mistrust and tensions between people. Not since World War II have so many people fled war and conflict," she wrote.
"It is the joint responsibility of all countries to help them, including the US."
Trump's decision is "wrong", Swiss foreign affairs minister Didier Burkhalter said.
"We have always been opposed to discrimination against human beings on the basis of religion or nationality," he said. "In that sense, the US order clearly goes in the wrong direction."
Burkhalter said the Swiss government would confer with American representatives to find out how the order would affect Swiss residents, especially dual nationals from countries affected.
Burkhalter also invoked the Geneva Conventions, saying they "mean that all countries welcome people affected by war for humanitarian reasons".
"It is, therefore contrary to the Conventions to stop welcoming people coming from Syria," he added.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said all refugees fleeing war and violence "deserve a safe haven, regardless of their ethnicity or religion".
He added that while his government is conscious of the potential to abuse the refugee system, "we regret the US decision to ban the travel of people from seven Muslim countries and we reject it."
However, Geert Wilders, a lawmaker from the far-right Freedom Party, tweeted Sunday: "Less Islam means more freedom" and "No more immigration from an Islamic country is exactly what we need. Also in The Netherlands, Islam and freedom are incompatible."
That said, a couple of countries did come out in favour of Trump's ban.
Going against the grain of global condemnation, a spokesman for Czech President Milos Zeman came out in favour of the ban.
"Trump protects his country, he's concerned with the safety of his citizens. Exactly what EU elites do not do," Jiri Ovcacek said.
Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski also refused to condemn the ban, saying "it's the right of every sovereign state to determine its own immigration policy".
"The scale of this phenomenon is so large that in many countries at the moment the immigration issue is a matter of government policy and should remain government policy," he told Polish private news channel Polsat News on Sunday.
"No country currently has the obligation to welcome immigrants. Countries have the obligation — in accordance with international conventions — to welcome refugees, if they arrive," he added.
With inputs from AFP
Published Date: Jan 30, 2017 11:38 AM | Updated Date: Jan 30, 2017 11:38 AM