In the continuing fallout from President Trump’s executive order last week to close the nation’s borders to refugees and others from seven majority-Muslim countries, Trump fired his acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, on Monday night. Yates, who had served as deputy attorney general under President Obama, said that Justice Department lawyers would not defend Trump’s order against legal challenges, a move that Trump said betrayed his administration.
The president’s executive order, issued on Friday, indefinitely barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States. It also suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, and it blocked anyone from entering the U.S. for 90 days from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The result: Travelers were stranded around the world, protests escalated in the United States, and anxiety rose within President Trump’s party over the weekend.
“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas,” Trump said at a signing ceremony on Friday at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
While some of the president’s political allies praised the moves as necessary steps to ensure America’s national security, rights activists condemned Trump’s actions, describing them as officially sanctioned religious persecution dressed up to look like an effort to make the U.S. safer. The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid organization, called it “harmful and hasty.” The American Civil Liberties Union described it as a “euphemism for discriminating against Muslims.” Raymond Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America, another aid group, said the order would harm families around the world who are threatened by authoritarian governments.
“The refugees impacted by today’s decision are among the world’s most vulnerable people—women, children, and men—who are simply trying to find a safe place to live after fleeing unfathomable violence and loss,” Offenheiser said.
The ACLU filed suit against the Trump administration on behalf of two Iraqi immigrants who were detained, accusing the president of violating the U.S. Constitution.
After the order was signed, students, visitors, and green-card-holding legal permanent U.S. residents from the seven affected countries—and refugees from around the world—were stopped at airports in the U.S. and abroad, including Cairo, Dubai, and Istanbul. Some were blocked from entering the U.S. and were sent back overseas.
On Saturday night, a federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, blocked part of Trump’s order, saying that refugees and others being held at airports across the U.S. should not be sent back to their home countries. But the judge stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Trump’s actions. Federal judges in three other states—Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington—soon issued similar rulings to stop the government from sending back refugees and others with valid visas. The judge in Massachusetts also said the government could not detain the travelers.
Thousands of people protested the executive order in cities across the country on Saturday, many of them at airports. Those protests continued on Sunday, when a large rally was also held outside the White House. In several places, immigration lawyers rushed to airports to offer their services at no charge to the families of those being detained.
The order was widely condemned by Democrats, religious groups, business leaders, immigration policy experts, academics, and others, but was praised by some Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, and supporters of President Trump.
“President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country,” Speaker Ryan told The Washington Post.
But other Republicans seemed alarmed by the order.
“This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country,” Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement. “That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader from New York, choked up as he vowed to “claw, scrap, and fight with every fiber of my being until these orders are overturned.”
Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said on Sunday that green card holders—legal permanent residents of the U.S.—from the banned countries would not be prevented from returning to the U.S. “going forward.” That appeared to be a reversal from one of the order’s key components.
Priebus also said that border agents had “discretionary authority” to subject any travelers, including American citizens, to additional questioning and scrutiny if they had been to any of the seven countries mentioned in the executive order.
At the White House, Trump disputed any suggestion that the bans had led to chaos for some travelers, and he denied the bans were religiously based. “It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared,” he said. “It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”