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Examining The Legal Issues At Stake As Groups Fight Trump's Executive Order


The action has now moved to the courts. Hours after President Donald Trump signed his executive order, a federal judge in Brooklyn granted temporary reprieve to dozens of refugees and other travelers stuck at airports. Other judges in Virginia and Massachusetts have chimed in too. The White House said it was motivated by a desire to protect U.S. borders. But lawyers are preparing a series of broad constitutional challenges. With us now to talk about the legal controversy is NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.


CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Carrie, the judge in New York - let's start with that - granted a temporary stay for some people. Who does that cover?

JOHNSON: It appears to cover what could be as many as 200 people who traveled to the U.S. before that Trump executive order was put in place, not just people in New York but people trapped in airports across the country. The court rulings from Saturday and early Sunday do not mean these folks are in the clear and can stay in the U.S. It just means they can't be deported right away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We saw images of volunteer lawyers flocking to airports, setting up legal offices in McDonald's and airport restaurants. What happened? What are they trying to achieve?

JOHNSON: Sure. Lawyers for the ACLU and a few other immigrant rights groups jumped on the case immediately. They raced to court Saturday night, drummed up a lot of support on social media. So the crowd in Brooklyn and elsewhere was huge. And in that New York courtroom, Judge Ann Donnelly found sending these travelers home could cause them irreparable harm and would cause no harm to the U.S. government to keep them in the country for the time being.

The judge didn't make a broad ruling about the constitutional claims in the case, but she did say, based on her early read, it was likely that their due process rights had been violated. And Lulu, another judge made clear this stay applies to people with green cards, lawful permanent residents of the U.S., who were getting detained at airports as well yesterday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the Trump administration saying about all this?

JOHNSON: Well, the Department of Homeland Security put out a statement last night. They said less than 1 percent of the 325,000 people who came to the U.S. yesterday were, in its words, inconvenienced. And DHS says it's going to keep enforcing the border, and it retains the right to revoke visas. So they are holding pretty firm.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, the president, yesterday, told reporters this is not a Muslim ban. But there are bigger questions about whether his order discriminates on the basis of religion.

JOHNSON: Yeah. The president's power when it comes to immigration is pretty sweeping. The president by precedent is able to bar refugees and in some cases to pick and choose among countries where the U.S. wants to admit people. But some constitutional lawyers and immigrant rights groups say Trump's order favors Christians over other religions. And in fact, Rudy Giuliani, a close adviser to President Trump, told Fox overnight that, in fact, the president had, at least on one occasion, used the word Muslim ban to him.

Meanwhile, Lulu, a prominent advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says it's planning a lawsuit on that and other grounds soon. So this legal action is only beginning right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Only beginning.

NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson
Carrie Johnson is NPR's National Justice Correspondent.