Update 3.43pm: The US State Department has reversed the cancellations of visas for foreigners after a federal judge blocked US president Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
The department initially said up to 60,000 foreigners from seven majority-Muslim countries had their visas “provisionally revoked” to comply with Mr Trump’s order blocking them from travelling to the United States.
The department said it acted to reinstate the visas after receiving word from the US justice department about the judge’s ruling in Washington state.
For now, the department said people covered by the order and holding a valid visa may now travel to the United States.
THE US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said it has “suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled ‘Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States’.”
The statement continues: “This includes actions to suspend passenger system rules that flag travelers for operational action subject to the Executive Order.
“DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure.
“At the earliest possible time, the Department of Justice intends to file an emergency stay of this order and defend the President’s Executive Order, which is lawful and appropriate.
“The Order is intended to protect the homeland and the American people, and the President has no higher duty and responsibility than to do so.”
The Homeland Security Department later said it is no longer directing airlines to prevent affected visa-holders from boarding US-bound flights.
Donald Trump has hit back after a judge temporarily blocked his travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
US District Judge James Robart in Seattle acted after Washington state and Minnesota urged a nationwide hold on the executive order that has launched legal battles across the country.
He ruled against government lawyers’ claims that the states did not have the standing to challenge Mr Trump’s order and said they showed their case was likely to succeed.
The federal judge’s order left authorities, advocates, embassies and airlines wondering what to do.
The White House said it would try to get a court to reinstate the ban that prompted the State Department to cancel visas for 60,000 or more people from the affected countries, causing widespread confusion at airports when some travellers were detained and others sent back.
An internal email circulated among Homeland Security officials on Friday night told employees to immediately comply with the judge’s ruling.
However, the US embassy in Baghdad said on Saturday that it was still awaiting guidance on what to tell Iraqis eager to see if their visa restrictions had changed.
“We don’t know what the effect will be, but we’re working to get more information,” the embassy said.
However, a pair of prominent Middle Eastern air carriers announced they would begin allowing passengers from the seven affected countries.
Both Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways, national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, said US-bound passengers from those countries with valid visas would be allowed to travel.
In Egypt, Cairo airport and airline officials said they have received instructions from the US Customs and Border Protection to suspend President Trump’s executive order.
Government-backed Qatar Airways is one of a handful of Middle East airlines operating direct daily flights to multiple American cities.
The judge’s decision was a victory for Washington and Minnesota, which had challenged Mr Trump’s directive.
“The state has met its burden in demonstrating immediate and irreparable injury,” Judge Robart said.
The White House has argued that it will make the country safer. Spokesman Sean Spicer released a statement late on Friday saying the government “will file an emergency stay of this outrageous order and defend the executive order of the president, which we believe is lawful and appropriate”.
Soon after, a revised statement was sent out that removed the word “outrageous”.
“The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people,” the statement said.
Mr Trump himself lashed out against the ruling on Twitter.
He wrote: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
The president also tweeted that “when a country is no longer able to say who can and who cannot come in & out, especially for reasons of safety & security – big trouble!”.
A State Department said: “We are working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and our legal teams to determine how this affects our operations. We will announce any changes affecting travellers to the United States as soon as that information is available.”
In their arguments to the court, Washington state and Minnesota said the temporary ban on entry for people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen and the global suspension of the US refugee programme significantly harms residents and effectively mandates discrimination.
After the ruling, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said people from the affected countries can now apply for entry to the US.
“Judge Robart’s decision, effective immediately … puts a halt to President Trump’s unconstitutional and unlawful executive order,” Mr Ferguson said. “The law is a powerful thing – it has the ability to hold everybody accountable to it, and that includes the president of the United States.”
The judge’s ruling could be appealed the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
Federal attorneys had argued that Congress gave the president authority to make decisions on national security and immigrant entry.
But in his written order, Judge Robart said it is not the court’s job to “create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches”, but rather, to make sure that actions taken by the executive or legislative branches “comports with our country’s laws”.
Court challenges of the ban have been filed nationwide from states and advocacy groups. Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell said his state’s focus is the way the president’s order targets Islam.
Mr Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, and the travel ban was an effort to make good on that campaign promise, Mr Purcell told the judge.
“Do you see a distinction between campaign statements and the executive order?” Judge Robart asked. “I think it’s a bit of a reach to say the president is anti-Muslim based on what he said in New Hampshire in June.”
Mr Purcell said there is an “overwhelming amount of evidence” to show the order is unconstitutionally directed at the Muslim religion.
The judge then questioned the federal government’s lawyer, Michelle Bennett, about Mr Trump’s rationale.
Judge Robart, an appointee of former president George W Bush, asked if there had been any terrorist attacks since 9/11 by people from the seven counties listed in Mr Trump’s order. Ms Bennett said she did not know.
“The answer is none,” Judge Robart said. “You’re here arguing we have to protect from these individuals from these countries, and there’s no support for that.”
Ms Bennett argued that the states cannot sue on behalf of citizens, and the states have failed to show the order is causing irreparable harm.
Judge Robart disagreed, and rejected a request from Ms Bennett for an immediate stay of his order.