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Judge Stays Trump Refugee Ban Amid Protests And Confusion Nationwide

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Donald Trump's executive order barring many foreigners, including all refugees, from entering the U.S. caused confusion at airports around the world. Travelers have been detained and turned back. And then, late last night, a federal judge in Brooklyn issued a temporary stay on part of the executive order, saying federal agents could not deport anyone who arrived in the U.S. with a valid visa. This is a rapidly developing story with lots of threads to follow. And we begin this morning with John Burnett, who covers immigration for NPR. Hi, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the situation? As we know it right now, it is changing all the time. But what are you hearing about what's happening at airports across the country?

BURNETT: Well, we just got some new information. I was on a call with some of the lawyers who filed the big lawsuit to stop the executive order in New York, including the ACLU and some others. And so these are lawyers that have their eyes and ears in the airports. They have their representatives there trying to meet some of these travelers. So this is the latest we've heard.

They say that we continue to face Border Patrol non-compliance at all of these airports. And despite the fact that they feel like there are now four federal judges who have ordered stays against this - Trump's order, that there's non-compliance on sort of a massive scale. They said...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Non-compliance meaning that they're keeping those people still.

BURNETT: Meaning that immigration agents continue to detain and deport and try to get the green cards from some of these who fall under Trump's order. And they're hearing it from across the country now, from the airports in Los Angeles, at JFK in New York, Dulles here in Washington, DFW in Dallas. And, again, they're saying in some cases, if you'll give us your green card, your lawful residency card, we'll let you get on the flight. And we won't bother you anymore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's what immigrations officials are telling people with green cards when they're coming into...

BURNETT: Yeah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...The country from these countries.

BURNETT: And so they're saying this is a checkerboard. They're saying that the government - the White House is not giving good guidance to all of its immigration enforcers around the nation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. What recourse do these advocates and travelers have? What can they try to do to get the government to comply?

BURNETT: Well, again, these lawyers, they're complaining that they're not able to see these clients, that every time they talk to Customs and Border Protection, that they're told that you just have to wait, or you can call President Trump. What's actually happening on these airplanes is that if the travelers have cell phones, that are being detained, they can call family members, who then call lawyers.

But there's no way for the lawyers to meet them. And so what they're doing is they're in these - in the airports with signs in Farsi and Arabic saying, if you have a relative who can't exit this flight, please call us. And there's, you know, like, a thousand or more of these volunteer lawyers now kind of fanning out in these international airports across the country. It's kind of extraordinary.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just to remind people, part of President Trump's order is meant to cover travelers from seven countries. I'm going to name them now - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Have you heard any specific stories of how this is playing out at airports?

BURNETT: Well, he said there's one case in which there was a young Iranian Fulbright scholar who was put on a flight. Customs and Border Protection put her on a flight that was ready to take off. The lawyers were able to prevail on the officials at the last minute. They turned the plane around on the tarmac, came back to the gate, and turned her loose. So this really is chaotic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think we should listen to, now, the administration's response. This is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on "Face The Nation" this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

REINCE PRIEBUS: I think - so here's what the correct statement is. The executive order itself is not placing further burdens on people that hold green cards. But what is reality - and this is the part that people get confused with - is that a Customs and Border Patrol agent does have pretty wide discretion in asking questions and making sure that the person coming in is not dangerous to Americans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Priebus there is talking specifically about green card holders. There's been a lot of confusion about this. You know, are they actually subject to this, or are they not? What do you think he's saying here?

BURNETT: Well, I think - I mean, even under that, Lulu, is that the individual port directors of these ports of entry have enormous latitude of how they want their agents to enforce this. And so it literally depends. If you fly into Atlanta, they - Atlanta and Chicago - they have released some of these detainees. If you end up in San Francisco or New York, they're still detaining them. So they do have a lot of interpretive powers of how they want to respond to this order.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. John Burnett, thank you so much for being with us.

BURNETT: It's been a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.