With Trump order blocked, travelers from Muslim countries rush to get to U.S.

Travelers from seven majority Muslim nations were speeding to reach the United States Saturday after a federal judge put a temporary stay on President Trump's controversial executive order blocking their entry, attorneys said. 

"Everybody is rushing to get here," said Shahin Fallah, an attorney working with visa holders from Iran. "My sister is a travel agent in Iran. She told me she's received a lot of calls."

Other attorneys said they expect a crush of travelers in the coming days from the affected countries, since President Trump has promised his administration will challenge the order issued by a federal judge in Seattle on Friday night.

Immigrant advocates said they were encouraging travelers from the affected countries to get on planes as soon as possible given the uncertainty surrounding the stay.

"There's a window right now. No one knows how long the window will last," said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project in New York. "People that need to get to the United States for an urgent reason should get on a plane as soon as possible."

Heller said her group was preparing packets of information that travelers could present to authorities. The documents explain their rights to travel to the United States in case they encountered any problems.

A handful of airlines - Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, and Lufthansa, among them - announced they would allow to travelers from the seven nations to board flights after the State Department said Saturday it was restoring visas that had been revoked.

Sirine Shebaya, a civil rights attorney representing travelers flying into Dulles International Airport, said she had received reports that some travelers were already on flights.

"People are being allowed to board from Tehran," Shebaya said.

Some flocked to greet the arrivals.

At the international arrivals terminal at Dulles International Airport Saturday morning, two people were on hand to greet travelers from the affected countries. Dressed in star spangled tights and holding welcome signs, Cindy Tomlinson and her 7-year-old daughter found the terminal quiet.

Tomlinson, 44, who lives in Fairfax and works for the American Society of Radiation Oncology, said she and her daughter took a break from watching movies and building a pinewood derby car to support immigrants targeted by the Trump administration. Finding none, the mother and daughter headed towards a makeshift welcome table set up by a group of immigration attorneys.

"We brought them office supplies," Tomlinson said, standing next to a table manned by three volunteers for the Dulles Justice Coalition, a legal advocacy group. "You can't have too many sticky notes."

Immigration lawyers said they expected some travelers to begin arriving at Dulles on overseas flights by Saturday afternoon.

"We are both very dismayed about the order," Tomlinson said, standing next to her freckled daughter, who held two balloons shaped like the snowman from Frozen. "It makes us very sad, right, that people can't be let into this country."

"It's not fair," said her daughter. "People will get air sick."

After spending a few minutes in the airport, talking to the attorneys, Tomlinson and her daughter left -- headed for home.

At John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, lawyers volunteering to help travelers affected by Trump's immigration order were stationed at the arrivals areas of its various terminal.

"We're tracking all flights. Those from Asia, the Middle East or Europe are the ones we're focusing on," said Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives for the New York immigration Coalition who is coordinating the legal effort at JFK.

She said that by midday, the lawyers had not identified any travelers affected previously by the president's executive order but who now had gained entry into the U.S. Mackler expected any such travelers to be on flights arriving later in the day.

She said lawyers were still trying to figure out how the ruling Friday by the judge in Washington state would affect travel on Saturday. But she welcomed the judge's action.

In addition to monitoring flights, the lawyers also were contacting people who had called the group's hotline earlier in the week to see if those travelers who were stopped from traveling by Trump's ban were now making their way to the U.S.

Late Friday, a handful of people flew into Los Angeles International Aiport from Iran, but none were affected by the ban, said a group of immigration attorneys who had set up a volunteer booth in a terminal to offer free legal services to foreign nationals detained at the airport.

"The only people that I know of that arrived today were green-card holders from Iran -- they were all very expeditiously passed through," said Alanna Holt, an immigration attorney from Los Angeles. "They are rolling out the red carpet for them today because of everything that's happened."

However, Customs and Border Protection officials on Friday night did detain several travelers arriving from other countries. Detainees included a green-card carrying Afghan family with young children that was held for over five hours.

Authorities also held a 23-year-old woman from Ukraine. By midnight, her friend who'd arrived to pick her up -- 35-year-old Peter Kats of Los Angeles -- had been waiting for nearly nine hours.

"She's not a criminal," he said. "She's a 23-year-old girl, sitting without food, without water."

The last he'd heard from her was a cryptic text she'd sent him seven hours before: "They are taking me to some room."

Kats added: "The thing is she flew through Istanbul - just a connection. So they are probably tripping."

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The Washington Post's Vera Haller contributed to this report.

 

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