A US judge has issued a stay temporarily halting the deportation of visa holders or refugees under an executive order from President Trump. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a legal case early on Saturday in response to the order. The judge's stay prevents those caught up in the aftermath from being deported, the ACLU said.
The group estimates that between 100 and 200 people were being detained at airports or in transit. The court decision came as thousands protested at airports in several US states over Donald Trump's clamp down on immigration.
His executive order, signed on Friday, halted the entire US refugee program and also instituted a 90-day travel ban for nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Those who were already mid-flight were detained on arrival - even if they held valid visas or other immigration permits.
The ruling, from US District Judge Ann Donnelly, prevented the removal from the US of people with approved refugee applications, valid visas, and other individuals... legally authorized to enter the United States.
The emergency ruling also said there was a risk of substantial and irreparable injury to those affected.
Lee Gelernt, deputy legal director of the Immigrants Rights Project, argued the case in court and was greeted by a cheering crowd outside. He said that some people had been threatened with being put back on a plane later on Saturday.
The judge, in a nutshell, saw through what the government was doing and gave us what we wanted, which was to block the Trump order and not allow the government to remove anybody who has come and is caught up in the order, nationwide, he told the crowd.
Gelernt also said the judge had ordered the government to provide a list of names of those detained under the order.
We are going to see each of the people, provide counsel, try and get them out of detention right now - but at minimum, they will not be returned back to danger. The court has set a date to hear the case for the end of February.
Speaking earlier on Saturday, Mr. Trump defended his executive order, saying it was not a Muslim ban.
It's working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over, Mr. Trump told reporters at the Oval Office.
This is a remarkable day, said the ACLU's executive director, Anthony Romero.
What we've shown today is that the courts can work ... they're a bulwark in our democracy, and when President Trump enacts laws or executive orders that are unconstitutional and illegal, the courts are there to protect everyone's rights.
Romero said the executive order was un-American and that flew in the face of established statutes that we have long regarded in this country.
In addition to those detained on arrival in the US, some air passengers were prevented from boarding US-bound flights after the order was signed.
On Saturday five Iraqi passengers and a Yemeni national were prevented from boarding a flight at Cairo airport bound for New York.