After a New York City judge Saturday night put a stay on President Trump's executive order banning certain refugees and immigrants from entering the United States, about five travelers remained held at Philadelphia International Airport as Philadelphia attorneys scrambled to keep them in the country.
The order by Judge Ann M. Donnelly of Brooklyn Federal Court came too late for two Christian Syrian immigrant families who were sent back to Doha, Qatar, after being held at PHL on Saturday morning.
Their experience and reports of other detainees triggered protests Saturday night at the airport that drew about 200 participants, as well as Mayor Kenney, Gov. Wolf, members of Congress and attorneys who arrived to aid the migrants.
Minutes before the federal stay was issued, Pennsylvania officials met with customs officials and then reported that attorneys were petitioning a federal court in Philadelphia to get a hearing for a stay here of President Trump's order.
"Over the course of the evening and into the morning, we will have the results of the hearing. That's where we are right now," Kenney told reporters just before 9 p.m.
Civil rights lawyers were waiting to file a petition in Philadelphia as the ACLU continued talks late Saturday night with the U.S. Attorney's Office to determine whether the New York judge's ruling would apply to the detainees in Philadelphia.
The detainees arrived on a Qatar Airways flight Saturday morning. The plan was to send them out of the country Sunday, but a stay would allow them to remain in the United States while a judge hears their petitions, said Ayodele Gansallo, a senior staff attorney for HIAS Pennsylvania, one of two attorneys who petitioned a Philadelphia judge for the stay.
In Brooklyn, Donnelly ruled just before 9 p.m. that travelers stuck at airports should not be sent back to their countries. She said implementing Trump's order by sending them home could cause them "irreparable harm," but stopped short of letting them into the country, The New York Times reported.
It was not clear whether the ruling in New York would be what is needed for the detainees in Philadelphia, said lawyer Jonathan Feinberg, of the civil rights law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, who said a colleague was speaking with a judge from the Eastern District and a U.S. Attorney's Office representative just before 10 p.m.
"The most important part is that we have the legal process going. We have a federal judge waiting to hear a stay," said Rep. Bob Brady (D., Philadelphia). "They are safe, they are comfortable, they'll be OK, hopefully we'll get our stay," he said of the immigrants.
Travelers in at least two other U.S. cities, New York, and San Francisco, also were stopped while high-tech titans, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Sandar Pichai, Google CEO, both criticized the immigration moves. Princeton faculty dean Deborah Prentice warned faculty and students from impacted nations to curtail travel abroad until more is known about the policy.
At PHL's International Arrivals hall, outrage was expressed by many.
"These are people who have gone through all the hurdles, and they have chosen to come and live with us here in Pennsylvania, and I say to them, you are welcome here," said Gov. Wolf, who, like Sen. Bob Casey, in town for the Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball, arrived at the airport in a tuxedo.
Information about who was being detained came in "drips and drabs," as Kenney put it. He said he was "pretty sure" one was a man who worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq or Afghanistan. Attorney Caitlin Barry, a Villanova University law professor, said she was representing one member of a Muslim family who was detained Saturday; the rest of the person's family are U.S. citizens and did not want to be identified. Lawyers at the airport said they had identified two to three people, mainly from family members calling in.
The Syrian families ordered out of the country earlier Saturday, who are Christian, were traveling with immigrant visas and were approved for green cards, said a relative, Sarah Assali, 25, of Allentown.
Assali said her six relatives - two uncles and their wives, as well as a 17-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter of one of the couples - had arrived in Philadelphia Saturday morning following an 18-hour flight from Doha. They are from Damascus.
"They were told their paperwork is not valid," she said. "They weren't told what or why."
Trump's order, signed Friday, imposes a 120-day ban on admission of refugees from anywhere in the world while administration officials review screening procedures. A second part of the policy bans immigration of any kind from seven terror-prone nations - Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Iran - for 90 days as those screening procedures are reviewed. The Syria immigration ban would last indefinitely, the order said.
For reasons that are unclear, the order left out other nations with long established terrorism entanglements, notably Saudi Arabia.
The order takes an unusual slap at the State Department, saying shoddy screening procedures permitted the admission to the U.S. of several of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
The order applies not only to new arrivals but also to foreigners with green cards, long-term visas that permit them under normal circumstances to live in the United States and also travel abroad. They are often held by students and workers from abroad. Homeland Security officials said Saturday that green card holders stuck outside the U.S. could seek entry under a provision that permits immigration officials to waive the restriction on a case-by-case basis.
Trump's executive order leaves open the possibility that the U.S. would allow Christian refugees to immigrate to the U.S. under a provision that permits travel to the U.S. by religious minorities that are discriminated against. Yet that provision appeared not to help Christian Syrian families turned back at the Philadelphia airport Saturday.
Assali said her father was driving from Allentown to the Philadelphia airport to pick up his brothers and their families Saturday morning when he received a call from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent telling him that his relatives had been denied entry.
A short time later, her uncles and their families were then put back on a Qatar Airways flight back to Doha. It wasn't until they were on the plane that they were able to call her father, she said.
Her father had bought a second home in Allentown for his brothers, one older and one younger, and their families.
Her relatives weren't fleeing Syria as refugees, she said.
"We signed the petition to bring them over [here] in 2003," she said. "The vetting process went on. They were approved [immigrant visas] in 2015. A few months ago, everything was approved and set. They chose to spend the holidays in Syria. They held off the flight for the holidays."
Mary Flannery, an airport spokeswoman, said the area of the airport for international arrivals "is under federal control," and that any decision to detain or deny someone entry was not made by employees of the airport, which is operated by the city.
Mayor Kenney issued a statement on Saturday noting that Philadelphia has received 260 refugees in recent years, and he attacked the Trump administration for its latest immigration moves.