“These people couldn’t run a two-car funeral,” Gov. Jay Inslee said of the White House ban. “It is a train wreck. It can’t stand.”
More than 30 people were arrested and police were forced to deploy pepper spray to break up a crowd of protesters at SeaTac International Airport following a night of confusion, angst and legal action protesting President Trump’s executive order barring entry to the U.S. for immigrants from seven Muslim countries, and all refugees.
Federal judges in New York and Seattle blocked deportations resulting from the order late in the day, as Sea-Tac became a flashpoint. Government officials, locals affected by the chaotic implementation of the order and employers struggled to figure out what it meant for them.
Early Sunday, two men — from Yemen and the Sudan — who had been detained at Sea-Tac were released following an emergency temporary restraining order prohibiting their deportation issued by U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly at the behest of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Judge Zilly set an hearing for Feb. 3 at 10 a.m. to determine whether the men will be allowed to stay in the U.S., and asked for extensive briefing from both sides. The order names President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security.
More on travel ban
- Judge in Hawaii blocks latest version of Trump’s travel ban
- Trump argues for travel ban after terror attacks in London
- Where things stand in legal fight over travel ban (June 3)
- U.S. to seek social-media details from certain visa applicants
- Trump targets 9th Circuit, the court that halted first travel ban
- Meet Jorge Baron, who leads the "big fight" for NW immigrants
- Trump's new travel ban avoids some legal pitfalls, but not all, local experts say
- New travel ban targets visa applicants from 6 nations, not Iraq
- Immigration Q&A: What is a refugee? What are green cards?
- Interest declines in trips to U.S.
- Wash. judge who stalled first ban is highly regarded GOP appointee
- A history of immigration in America
- 30 Days: A refugee family's first month here
Reports of problems emerged soon after the judge’s stay was issued, though.
“We have gotten disturbing reports that @CustomsBorder is refusing to comply with the court order,” ACLU Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang tweeted Saturday night.
However, early Sunday Homeland Security issued statement that it would comply with the judicial orders.
The protests at SeaTac went on for several hours, and it wasn’t until later that some a group that came to the airport to renounce Trump ended up blocking passengers’ access to security checkpoints. Police moved in to clear the way.
All day Saturday, uncertainty and anger prevailed.
In the morning, Ibado Ahmed came to the airport to meet her husband, who was flying in from Somalia via Vienna.
His flight arrived as scheduled. But Ahmed, a refugee who has lived in Seattle 12 years, according to family members, did not get to see her husband.
Federal customs agents detained him.
Port of Seattle Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said she tried to arrange for Ahmed’s husband to meet with an attorney. “Unfortunately, he was already on his way back to Vienna,” Gregoire said.
Gov. Jay Inslee and other elected officials held a news conference at the airport to denounce what they called a poorly coordinated, reckless and un-American policy, unveiled late Friday by Trump.
“These people couldn’t run a two-car funeral,” Inslee said of the White House. “It is a train wreck. It can’t stand. We’re drawing the line here at Sea-Tac.”
Trump’s executive order suspends entry of all refugees for 120 days, bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks U.S. entry for 90 days for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Immediately, customs and immigration officials across the country faced the challenge of enforcing the new restrictions even as travelers were already en route to the United States or on the ground at ports of entry such as airports.
Inslee likened the order to internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Lawyers came to the airport, trying to help as they could.
By early Saturday evening, six people had been detained at Sea-Tac, according to a Port of Seattle official. Of those, two were released and allowed to enter the U.S., while four were to be sent back to their place of departure.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly granted an emergency stay to prevent two of the four from being sent away, said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU of Washington state.
Airport officials said they were providing a conference room for families waiting for loved ones to arrive, so they wouldn’t have to stand in the baggage areas. Officials were also trying to connect family members with lawyers who might help them.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, an immigrant herself, called Trump’s order “inhumane and barbaric.”
Protesters refuse to leave
A group of about 1,000 protesters formed at the airport early Saturday night shouting chants like, “Let them in.” The demonstration temporarily stopped light-rail service to the airport.
Before midnight, the number of protesters had dwindled, but some had chosen to block passengers’ usual access to security checkpoints. At times, airport personnel led passengers on circuitous routes to reach security.
Police detained some demonstrators, using zip ties to handcuff them.
Protesters remained into the early hours of Sunday morning. Officers ordered demonstrators to leave, but one group locked arms and stayed. Police used their bikes to force the group back across a skybridge, and deployed pepper spray.
A protest is planned for 5 p.m. Sunday at Westlake Park in downtown Seattle.
Away from the airport on Saturday, the business world tried to figure out how the unprecedented action would affect commerce and workers’ lives.
Microsoft sought to reassure and offer legal assistance to employees.
In an email to employees, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said the company was aware of 76 workers who are citizens of the affected countries and hold U.S. temporary work visas.
“We’ll make sure that we do everything we can to provide fast and effective legal advice and assistance,” Smith said.
He said the company had reached out to each of those employees, but added there may be others with permanent-resident status, or green cards, who could be banned from re-entering the U.S. under the new policy.
The software giant employed 120,000 workers in 2016 — 45,400 of whom were in Washington state, primarily in Redmond and Bellevue.
In a quarterly filing this week, Microsoft said changes to U.S. immigration policy that restrict the flow of people “may inhibit our ability to adequately staff our research and development efforts.” That language didn’t appear in the company’s prior filings.
Smith said Microsoft supports efforts to ease barriers to immigration, including the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which defers deportation for immigrants — known as “Dreamers” — who came to the U.S. as children.
That policy faces an uncertain future under Trump, who has called for mass deportations and for reform of the guest-worker programs that Microsoft and other software companies rely on.
Peter Lee, a Microsoft executive who oversees one of the company’s research units in Redmond, weighed in Saturday on Twitter about the ban’s impact on the immigration-dependent technology industry.
When Lee ran the computer-science department at Carnegie Mellon University, he said, “We had more high-quality Ph.D. grad applications and admissions from Iran than from France.”
Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, a U.S. citizen who was born in India, also defended immigration.
“As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world,” Nadella wrote on LinkedIn. “We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”
Other companies scrambled to respond, too.
In an email to employees, Amazon Vice President of Human Resources Beth Galetti wrote that the company was working on contingency plans for employees from the countries covered by the ban and who might be traveling abroad. It also recommended those who might be impacted and are present in the U.S. to stay put.
Aid groups, students in tailspin
Aid organizations who work with refugees also have been thrown into a tailspin.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which greets newly arrived refugees and resettles them in local communities, says its Seattle office had expected 37 refugees to arrive from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ukraine between now and the first week of March. Some refugees are now indefinitely in limbo, said IRC-Seattle’s Executive Director Nicky Smith.
To show just how meaningful the timing of Friday’s executive order was, Smith cited an Iraqi family that had worked for the United States during the war there who arrived on a special-immigrant visa at Sea-Tac and cleared immigration just before the order went into effect. They’re safe. That was the last family the local IRC had the opportunity to greet.
But Smith says many local refugee families remain worried.
A Syrian couple who arrived in Seattle in December with two children under the age of 18 were waiting for the arrival of two adult children from overseas who had been locked out.
“The thing I find devastating is, we’re talking six weeks between the parents arriving and now — what a sea change,” Smith said.
A dual U.S.-Iranian citizen at the University of Washington who only identified herself as Kimia out of fears about her own travel freedoms, says that her grandparents, green-card holders who live mostly in the United States but are currently back in Iran visiting, bought return tickets to Seattle only a week ago. They were due to arrive back in March.
Kimia, who is studying biochemistry and psychology at the UW, said she hasn’t spoken with her grandparents since Trump’s order took effect but she has seen many posts from Facebook friends in similar situations.
“A lot of people here in the U.S. have businesses or they have a lot of family members in Iran,” she said. “A lot of them travel back and forth. Especially with the USA being the land of the free, having that freedom canceled for us, it’s very scary and concerning. I think it’s morally wrong to accuse people because of their background or their faith.”
Another UW student, Hassan Guyo, a Muslim from Kenya studying law, said he and other Muslims studying here are concerned that the federal government — to carry out the order — might force colleges and universities to share information about students like him.
He’s also scared.
“I don’t know what’s next,” said Guyo, who’s 37. He has lots of Muslim friends who travel to Kenya or use that country to reach their home country of Somalia, which is included in the ban.
“I spoke to one guy who went a few months ago; he called me yesterday very, very depressed. He has a green card. But a green card doesn’t mean anything anymore.”