Airlines and Aviation
Between 100 and 200 refugees and passengers were trapped at U.S. airports on Saturday 28 January 2017 following an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump the day before.
Customs officials and airlines stopped allowing persons affected by the ban to board planes as soon as the announcement was made.
Those that had already taken flight were detained on arrival by customs officials at several airports across the United States.
The executive order …
- Suspends the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days;
- Bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely;
- Blocks the entry into the United States for 90 days of citizens of the following seven countries, which are predominately Muslim:
According to the Department of Homeland Security, green card holders from those countries are also barred from re-entering the United States.
Waivers will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
While critics of the executive order claim it is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and a violation of religious freedom, it must be noted that not all countries with large Muslim populations are affected by the order.
Citizens of Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which are predominately Muslim, are not affected by the ban.
Neither are the citizens of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – which are all overwhelmingly Muslim.
India, which has a predominately Hindu population, is also not affected by the ban, even though it has the world's second largest number of Muslim citizens after Indonesia.
Conflict of Interest?
Could it be that countries in which Trump has business interests have been exempted from the ban, as some critics claim?
Check out these figures from the CATO Institute. Between 1975 and 2014, citizens of …
- Saudi Arabia were responsible for the death of 2,369 Americans;
- the United Arab Emirates were responsible for the death of 314 Americans;
- Egypt were responsible for the death of 162 Americans;
- Lebanon were responsible for the death of 158 Americans.
Yet citizens of the seven countries covered by the executive order were not responsible for any American deaths.
Will other countries be added to the list in due time? Or was this a simple case of conflicting interests?
Only time will tell.
Aviation Industry Reacts
Airlines around the world were quick to react, and Middle Eastern Airlines were no exception
A spokesperson for Doha-based Qatar Airways said that only passengers with the proper documentation would be allowed to board flights headed for the United States.
"We are enforcing the new rules," the official said.
"If travelers to the US don't have the proper documentation, we are not going to take them to the US."
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways also said it would immediately apply restrictions on its flights to the United States.
It goes without saying, however, that the airlines didn't have much of a choice. Would they really have been able to challenge an executive order of the president of the United States?
New Vetting Measures
Donald Trump was quick to defend his move, saying it was working "nicely".
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” The Donald said as he signed the order at the Pentagon.
“Don’t want them here.”
Protests broke out at at least eight major U.S. airports, with demonstrators calling foul:
- Atlanta Hartfield International Airport;
- Boston Logan International Airport;
- Chicago O’Hare Field;
- New York John F. Kennedy International Airport;
- Orlando International Airport;
- Philadelphia International Airport;
- Seatllte/Tacoma International Airport;
- Washington Dulles International Airport.
Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. government in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, New York.
Judge Ann M. Donnelly, who heard the case, ruled that sending the travelers home could cause them “irreparable harm”, adding that the government was “enjoined and restrained from, in any manner and by any means, removing individuals” arriving in the country with valid visas or refugee status.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkeman of a Federal District Court in the state of Virginia issued a temporary restraining order for a week to block the removal of any green card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport, which serves Washington, DC, and its suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.
A similar ruling was made in Seattle, Washington.
It is important to note, however, that none of these rulings has anything to do with the constitutionality of the executive order.
There will undoubtedly be further, more far-reaching legal challenges in the days and weeks to come, and judges will most likely take more time to reach a decision.
News spread fast, and reaction to the executive order was fast and furious.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s losing opponent in the recent presidential election was quick to criticize.
- “I stand with the people gathered across the country tonight defending our values and our Constitution. This is not who we are," said Hillary Clinton, Democratic Candidate for President, 2016.
Even some members of Trump’s own party, however, were also less than enthusiastic about the move.
- “I think it’s important to remember that some of our best sources [of information] in the war against radical Islamic terrorism, are Muslims, both in this country and overseas … We need to be careful as we do this,” said Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Republican.
Many foreign leaders were also quick to criticise. Here are some reactions from overseas leaders:
- “To those fleeing persecution, terror, and war, Canadians will welcome you, regarless of your faith. Diversity is or strength. #WelcomeToCanada” – Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister, Canada.
- “The US decision to restrict travel for Muslims to the US, even if for a temporary period of three months, is an obvious insult to the Islamic world and in particular to the great nation of Iran.” - Foreign Ministry of Iran.
- “The reception of refugees fleeing the war, fleeing oppression, is part of our duties.” – Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Foreign Minister.
- “The United States is a country where Christian traditions have an important meaning. Loving your neighbor is a major Christian value, and that includes helping people…I think that is what unites us in the West, and I think that is what we want to make clear to the Americans.” – Sigmar Gabriel, German Foreign Minister.
- “The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.” – Theresa May, British Prime Minister.
- “India is not really worried at the moment as the religious radicalization has not been a big problem in the country and it has not been a source of refugees. So far no Indians have been arrested abroad for being involved in acts of terror.” – senior official, Ministry of External Affairs, India.
- “We have deep regrets about this policy.” – Retno Marsudi, Foreign Minister, Indonesia.
I doubt if this controversy is over. More controversial executive orders are sure to follow, and they will surely also be met with yet more legal challenges – and protests.