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Brooklyn judge defies a president

ACLU, other entities weigh in; Unprecedented demonstrations

January 30, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Judge Ann Donnelly, federal judge for the Eastern District, is in the eye of the storm after she issued a temporary stay of President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order banning refugees and some legal residents of the U.S.  Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

Brooklyn’s federal court was at the center of a political maelstrom over the weekend following protests and chaos at airports around the country triggered by President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, issued late Friday.

Demonstrations on Saturday that started at Kennedy International Airport — where immigrants and green card holders were being detained — culminated outside the federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza East where Judge Ann M. Donnelly, unruffled by the cacophony outside and outrage in the world’s media, issued a temporary stay.

Donnelly, at the eye of the storm having international repercussion, is much admired in Brooklyn as a brilliant judge and a “no-nonsense type,” her colleagues say. (See related story by Rob Abruzzese.) She was nominated to be a federal judge by President Barack Obama on the recommendation of Sen. Charles Schumer.

The challenge was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations. In a conference call on Monday, ACLU attorneys reported that federal agencies turned away immigrants even after they had received notice of the filing, and that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was blocking immigrants from contacting lawyers and, in some cases, coercing them to sign paperwork detrimental to their well-being.

After initially refusing to commit that the stay applies nationwide, on Sunday lawyers for the Trump administration acknowledged that fact, according to a filing from petitioners’ counsel as reported by Chris Geidner, legal editor of Buzzfeed News. Similar lawsuits have since been filed in other jurisdictions across the country.

The order calls for a 90-day ban on refugees and some legal immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also includes a 120-day ban on all refugees, and a complete halt on admitting refugees from Syria.

Courthouse protest ‘empowering’

The nighttime rally at the courthouse late Saturday was “very empowering,” said one Brooklyn Heights’ participant who did not want her name used. She estimated that 500-700 protesters filled Cadman Plaza Park.

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The building, fronted by numerous windows, was lit up in the darkness, and people outside could see the attorneys walking down the staircase, she said.

“Everyone was cheering. But when they got to the bottom, it was dead silence. People wanted to hear what they had to say, but there was no microphone and no amplification. Everyone was just quiet, not a word, not a peep, except a dog barking,” she said.

“And then we heard a cheer so we knew it was good news. And the cheer rippled back to the back,” she said. She added, “I was almost crying.”

Brooklyn officials commit to fight the order

Representatives Nydia Velazquez, Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Charles Schumer, Borough President Eric Adams and others vowed to stand with immigrants.

“What you have done is shameful. It’s un-American. And it’s created so much confusion, not only among working families and families in America, but also it is creating confusion with the people that are working in Homeland Security,” Velazquez (D- Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens) said at a large demonstration outside JFK Airport Saturday night.

Velazquez and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D- Brooklyn and Manhattan) issued a joint release vowing to “fight this executive order in the streets, in the courts, anywhere, anytime.”

Jeffries spent “all day on Sunday” trying to help an immigrant remain in the country, according to the ACLU.

Dems to introduce legislation and an investigation

Schumer on Sunday stood with immigrants, including an Iraqi interpreter for U.S. troops who was held in handcuffs for 17 hours at JFK before being allowed in.

Schumer had tears in his eyes as he said that Senate Democrats “are going to introduce legislation to overturn this and move as quickly as we can and I, as your senator from New York, will claw, scrap and fight with every fiber of my being until these orders are overturned.”

Trump mocked him for his tears in a tweet on Monday.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, at a press conference outside the federal courthouse on Monday, highlighted the case of Saira Rafiee, a young woman enrolled at the CUNY Graduate Center who is being denied reentry. The Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident, who was on vacation during her winter break to see family members in her native Iran, was told by customs officials in the United Arab Emirates that she would be unable to return to school in America. Hundreds of CUNY and SUNY students are affected by the order, the school systems said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan), senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, called on the committee to launch an investigation into how the executive order “came to fruition.”

She said she wants the investigation to look into what federal agencies were consulted; what guidance, if any, was developed for agencies; the legal analysis and vetting used to justify the order; whether White House political staff inappropriately overruled agency lawyers; and what consideration was given to the order’s human, economic and fiscal costs.

Concerns on both sides of the aisle were further fueled by the news that Steve Bannon, former manager of the alt-right media outlet Breitbart News, was appointed as a top-level member of the National Security Council by Trump, replacing the nation’s chiefs of staff — who were downgraded to a need-to-know basis.

The National Security Council, the central group advising the president on national and international security, is now being headed by retired lieutenant-general Mike Flynn. Flynn has been criticized for his ties to Russia, his description of Islam as a “cancer” and his loose grasp on facts, according to the New York Times and other sources.

Department of Homeland Security statement on legal residents

Newly appointed Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly issued a statement Sunday night which appeared to be an attempt to clarify the issue of allowing legal, permanent U.S. residents back into the country.

“In applying the provisions of the president’s executive order, I hereby deem the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest,” he said.

He added, however, that legal residents’ right to return home to the U.S. would still be determined on a case-by-case basis.

“Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations,” Kelly said.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) followed up with a statement adding that DHS was “working closely with airline partners to prevent travelers who would not be granted entry under the executive orders from boarding international flights to the U.S.”

DHS issued a third statement Sunday night.

“Lawful permanent residents of the United States traveling on a valid I-551 will be allowed to board U.S. bound aircraft and will be assessed for exceptions at arrival ports of entry, as appropriate. The entry of these individuals, subject to national security checks, is in the national interest. Therefore, we expect swift entry for these individuals,” DHS said.

The ACLU said on Monday that no information was being shared with attorneys, however, regarding the status of immigrants and green card holders who may or may not still be in detention.

‘Not a Muslim ban’

Trump maintained on Sunday that the order was “not a Muslim ban.”

“This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” he said, blaming “the media” for falsely reporting his order as a Muslim ban.

Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer said that the order was about “slowing the process down.”

At a press conference he said, “We shouldn’t let people just reenter the county who are not citizens of the US… They should be asked certain questions, they should go through extreme vetting to make sure that when they re-enter this country that they continue to do so with peaceful purposes.”

Schumer said that prior to Trump’s executive order, refugees were vetted using “an already-in-place rigorous but fair screening process that takes years to navigate, in many cases.”

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