Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was quiet Saturday despite predictions of chaos after a federal judge blocked President Trump’s travel ban. But the legal brinkmanship had locals alternately elated and anxious.

Share story

Chaos did not materialize at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Saturday despite uncertainty surrounding a Seattle federal judge’s ruling temporarily blocking President Trump’s travel ban.

But the legal brinkmanship, with the Trump administration promising to seek an emergency stay of U.S. District Judge James Robart’s ruling — and then doing so late Saturday — affected locals feeling alternately elated and anxious. Some immigrants tried to book tickets for loved ones, with mixed success; lawyers planned their next move; and one relief organization was trying to recover from setbacks to its medical missions.

A noon flight from the Middle East arrived without incident. “No one was subject to detention or secondary screening as far as we could tell,” said Timothy Chou, a volunteer lawyer standing by at international baggage claim.

It could be that no passenger hailed from the seven predominantly Muslim countries listed in Trump’s executive-order ban.

More on travel ban


“I don’t think word got out in time,” said Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), referring to the judge’s Friday afternoon ruling.

Barón said he is contact with a local family member of an Iraqi stuck in Jordan while waiting to come to the U.S. The Iraqi, who has authorization to immigrate, according to Barón, tried to book a flight Friday night to Chicago, where other family members live, but could not find an airline willing to take him.

Fueling that hesitancy was the Trump administration’s intention to appeal (the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco early Sunday denied the government’s request to immediately reinstate the ban, but the appeal and legal battle continue).

Still, the Department of Homeland Security announced it was suspending key portions of the president’s order, which temporarily bars entry to the U.S. to anyone from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. It also indefinitely bans refugees from Syria and stops all refugees from coming for 120 days.

By Saturday morning, the airlines appeared to be loosening up. Omar Alithawi, an Iraqi green card holder who’s lived in Bothell for almost five years, was able to book a ticket for his wife from Baghdad to Sea-Tac.

Alithawi returned from a trip to Baghdad a few days ago, and his wife was to accompany him. He’d worked for more than two years to get her a visa.

But following Trump’s order, a visa was not enough. Alithawi’s wife was left at the Baghdad airport.

With the newly purchased ticket, she’s scheduled to arrive Monday.

“I am very nervous,” Alithawi said. “I don’t know what’s going on exactly.”

Proceeding carefully

Also nervous was a Syrian man living with his wife and two children in Tukwila. The man, who asked to be known only by his first name, Ahmed, was thrilled to hear of Robart’s order. He and his wife have been waiting for their two adult children, now in Turkey, to join the rest of the family.

Speaking through an interpreter, Ahmed said he was optimistic that his two children — a 21-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter who is seven months pregnant and planning on immigrating with her husband — would be able to come, if not immediately, then in a month or two.

“I have more faith this is a democratic state,” he said.

His children in Turkey need to wait for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to approve their flight. It is only once on board that IOM will hand them documents allowing them to stay in the U.S.

The IOM office in Turkey was closed for the weekend, but Ahmed’s son reached an employee who seemed doubtful any action could be taken soon.

That put a damper on the family’s enthusiasm. “If the situation continues as it is, I won’t be able to work because of the emotional toll,” said Ahmed, an electrician who has been taking English classes since he arrived in December.

Even people already in the U.S., but from countries named in Trump’s order, were proceeding carefully. Software engineer Methal Dabaj, who has an H-1B visa allowing her to work at Microsoft, said she would not travel outside the country any time soon.

Dabaj is a Jordanian citizen, by virtue of her dad’s nationality. But because she was born in Syria, and grew up there, she has been advised by Microsoft’s lawyers that she is subject to the travel ban.

“It would be a big risk” to travel knowing that Robart’s ruling could be undone before she could get back.

Her reasoning follows the advice being given by the ACLU of Washington, which has been actively reaching out to foreigners from the seven countries named in the executive order who are on work and student visas.

“Every conversation we have, we preface it by saying: ‘The situation is highly unstable, the advice we give you now may not be good 20 minutes from now,’ ” said Emily Chiang, legal director for the ACLU of Washington.

“Moving target”

Dabaj, a Kirkland resident who has been helping settle refugees and started a Facebook page, Welcome Home Refugees-Washington, was worried after Trump signed his executive order that her green card application would be affected.

Although the order did not mention green card applications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, determined it would suspend action on such applications from the seven countries named, according to a lawsuit filed by NWIRP.

On Friday, Dabaj’s lawyers told her the government would resume processing green card applications.

The government decided to do so before Robart’s ruling, according to NWIRP legal director Matt Adams. “As with many other points, this has been a moving target,” he said.

Rita Zawaideh, founder of Salaam Cultural Museum, a Seattle organization that sends doctors and other volunteers to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, Greece and Turkey, said her aid missions are suffering. Many of the doctors who go on the missions are Arab Americans, often from Syria.

They’re usually American citizens who work at hospitals throughout the U.S., she said. Still, they’re telling her: “I’m afraid to go. What if they don’t let me back in?”

There was little indication Saturday of when the turmoil might end. The lawsuit that prompted Robart’s order, filed by Washington’s attorney general and alleging harm to the state by the executive order, is only of many lawsuits under way.

“We’re going to move forward,” Barón said of an NWIRP lawsuit.

The federal government has argued that the state has no compelling interest in the travel ban. But Barón said his clients, including U.S. citizens and a green card holder trying to bring family members here, clearly do.