Update: The State Department has contradicted the Justice Department lawyer who previously told a federal judge that over 100,000 visas were revoked to comply with Trump’s temporary ban on travel from seven countries. The actual number is about 40,000 lower according to the State Dept: “Fewer than 60,000 individuals’ visas were provisionally revoked to comply with the Executive Order,” said Will Cocks, spokesperson for the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
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Over 100,000 visas have been revoked following President Trump’s ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries the WaPo and NBC reported citing a government attorney in Alexandria federal court Friday. The attorney, Erez Reuveni from the Justice Department’s Office of Immigration Litigation, did not say how many people with visas were sent back to their home countries in response to the travel ban. However, he said no returning legal permanent residents have been denied entry.
Reuveni told the court on Friday that in addition to the 60 people who were allegedly stripped of their legal status and deported, some 100,000 others have had their visas revoked since last Friday, when Trump signed an executive order barring citizens of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days while the federal government revisits its screening processes.
The number was revealed during a hearing in a lawsuit filed by attorneys for two Yemeni brothers who arrived at Dulles International Airport last Saturday. They allege they were forced into giving up their legal resident visas, they argue, and quickly put on a return flight to Ethiopia. According to the lawsuit, they were detained by Customs and Border Protection agents at Dulles Airport and "forced to sign" I-407 forms "against their will and without their knowledge or consent."
"The Immigration and Nationality Act provides no way to legally effectuate such a ban against this category of immigrants," the Virginia lawsuit states. "Congress has provided that immigrants in petitioners’ situation are entitled to enter the United States, and that if the government disagrees, it must institute regular removal proceedings before an immigration judge."
“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. Others meanwhile have said that Trump is merely doing what he promised, and that his immigration "ban" has been seen approvingly by a plurality of the US population as a recent Reuters poll found.
A third, more skeptical group, has noted that the number seems too high to be realistic: "100,000 visa revoked in one week? So 5 million are issued a year from the 7 countries?" a confused commentator noted.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit plaintiffs are being offered new visas and the opportunity to come to the U.S. in exchange for dropping their suits. 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. However, 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.”
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.”
She continued her criticism: “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.
The judge ruled that the lawsuit would be allowed to move forward.