Immigration clash lands in Chicago courts — UPDATED

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Volunteer attorneys offer legal services for detained travelers at O'Hare International Airport on Sunday evening.

Volunteer attorneys offer legal services for detained travelers at O’Hare International Airport on Sunday evening.

UPDATED Tuesday evening:

Two Chicago-area residents with legal standing to enter the United States have turned to the U.S. District Court in Chicago, contending in lawsuits filed this week that they were wrongly blocked from returning to the country because of the executive order restricting travel.

An Iranian green card holder who has lived in the U.S. with his family for five years filed suit Monday evening, alleging he was refused a ticket on Saturday to return to the U.S. after he traveled to Iran to care for his mother, the lawsuit states.

Then on Tuesday a medical resident filed a lawsuit that states he was refused entry and had his visa canceled by U.S. officers Saturday at the Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, where he had traveled 10 days earlier to get married. Judge Elaine Bucklo is scheduled to preside over a status hearing in Amer Al Homssi’s case Wednesday morning.

The suits are the first legal challenges in the Chicago courts to the executive order that President Donald Trump signed on Friday afternoon preventing many citizens from seven Middle Eastern and African countries with Muslim majorities from entering the United States for at least the next 90 days.

The order would ban refugees from Syria from entering. It would restrict citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Sudan, including holders of valid visas and lawful U.S. residents who had traveled outside the borders. The order created immediate chaos and protests at international airports in the United States, as travelers were held by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers for hours of questioning.

On Saturday night, U.S. Judge Ann Donnelly in New York granted a temporary stay preventing anyone being detained at airports from being sent back to their home countries. Federal judge Dolly Gee in California has ruled that a man who was sent back to Iran from a Los Angeles airport must be brought back to the U.S.

It is unclear how many travelers, like the two Chicago plaintiffs, have been prevented from boarding flights to the U.S.

According to Al Homssi’s lawsuit, he is a Syrian citizen with legal residency in the UAE, and had been a resident at the University of Illinois-Chicago and Advocate Christ Medical Center and under a visa intended for scholarly research, especially in the fields of medicine and business. About 300,000 visitors from about 200 countries each year come to the United States on this visa, according to the State Department website.

The lawsuit describes what happened at the Abu Dhabi airport:

He was questioned about his work and family, but not on whether he was affiliated with terrorist groups. A United States officer searched Al Homssi’s smartphone to look at photographs and a Qu’ran prayer application called “Islamona.”

When officials handed his documents back to Al Homssi’s visa was written over the words “Cancelled E.O. 59447v8.” Al Homssi was told he was denied entry because of the executive order.

The lawsuit, which contends it is “unmistakably clear that the Executive Order in question targets Muslims,” states that the risks are significant for Al Homssi: If he is not allowed to finish his medical residency, then his legal residency in UAE will be rescinded and he will be sent to Syria, which is in the throes of civil war.

He is suing for for his visa to be reinstated and for enforcement of the executive order to be blocked.

On Tuesday night Trump fired acting attorney general Sally Yates after she directed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the executive order in court. Yates, who had been a top Justice Department official under Loretta Lynch, was replaced with Dana Boente, a U.S. attorney from Virgina, who has said he will defend the order.

A rotating collective of volunteer attorneys has been stationed at O’Hare International Airport since the weekend to assist detained travelers.

The Iranian man’s lawsuit, in which his identity was withheld, was filed on behalf of the Iranian man by attorney Taher Kameli, who said he expects Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan to hear the case this week. Kameli’s client has a wife and three children, one of whom is pregnant, in the United States, and is seeking re-entry to the United States to witness the expected birth of his granddaughter.

Amid the chaos of recent days, Trump administration officials said they will examine on a case-by-case basis requests from lawful U.S. residents to reenter, and will only block those with “significant derogatory information” indicating a threat to safety.

The lawsuit seeks a court order to declare that section of the executive order unconstitutional, and to compel the Department of Homeland Security to notify airlines to accept green card holders onto flights back to the United States.

“Since (Saturday) the position of the government has changed so many times,” Kameli said.

The suit contends that the section of the executive order in question violates the constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection of the law, as well as federal immigration law. That law identifies six categories of green card holders who may be denied entrance, including those who have committed crimes abroad or have abandoned their legal status.

“Only six categories of individuals who have green cards can be excluded,” Kameli said. “The president has created a seventh one by himself.”

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