Visa holders from countries affected by US president Donald Trump’s travel ban have hurried to board US-bound flights after a federal judge temporarily halted the block.
Those who can travel immediately are being urged to do so because of uncertainty over whether the US justice department would be granted an emergency freeze of the order issued on Friday by US district judge James Robart in Seattle.
The US government suspended enforcement of the week-old ban as it scurried to appeal Judge Robart’s order, although an immigration lawyer said passengers in at least one African airport were told they could not get on the planes.
Rula Aoun, director of the Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn, Michigan, told The Detroit News that her group is advising people to hurry.
US officials have said up to 60,000 foreigners had their visas “provisionally revoked” to comply with Mr Trump’s order. Although the government suspended enforcement of the travel ban while it sought an emergency stay of Judge Robart’s order, some airlines reportedly still were not letting some people from the seven Muslim-majority countries board their planes.
Royal Jordanian Airlines, which operates direct flights from Amman to New York, Chicago and Detroit, said it would resume carrying nationals from the seven countries as long as they presented a valid US visa or green card.
But in the African nation of Djibouti, immigration attorney Julie Goldberg said a Qatar Airways representative told her that immigrants from all seven countries affected by the ban – Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Somalia – were not allowed to fly on Saturday afternoon.
A Qatar Airways spokeswoman said the airline would begin boarding travellers from those countries.
Ms Goldberg said she was trying to arrange flights for dozens of Yemeni citizens who have immigrant visas and were stranded there.
She said a supervisor at Turkish Airlines told her that people holding immigrant and non-immigrant visas from the seven countries still were being banned unless they had a special email from the US Customs and Border Protection with the person’s name and passport number.
A 12-year-old Yemeni girl whose parents and siblings are US citizens living in California was finally allowed to depart after “an hour-and-a-half of fighting” with officials, Ms Goldberg said.
It was unclear when she would arrive.
A Somali refugee said about 140 asylum seekers whose resettlement in the US was blocked by Mr Trump’s executive order were sent back to their camp. It is unclear if or when they could travel.
Nadir Hassan said the group of Somali refugees was relocated to Dadaab camp in eastern Kenya today.
They had been expected to settle in the US this week and had been staying at an International Organisation for Migration transit centre in Nairobi.
“I was hoping to start a new life in the US,” Mr Hassan said. “We feel bad.”
American businesses affected by the ban also were jumping into action. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who quit Mr Trump’s business advisory council this week under criticism of his initial response to the ban, said his company is buying plane tickets for some of its drivers who are stranded, tweeting Friday night that the head of litigation for the ride-hailing app is “buying a whole bunch of airline tickets ASAP!”
Meanwhile, legal advocates waited at airports to offer assistance to new arrivals in case anything went wrong.
Volunteer attorney Renee Paradis was among 20-25 lawyers and interpreters who stationed themselves inside JFK’s Terminal 4 in case anyone arrived on Saturday needing help.
They were carrying handmade signs in Arabic and Farsi which read they were available to help.