Crime

Fewer than 60,000 visas cancelled by Trump as judge probes whether ban targets Muslims

Protests against Donald Trump's ban were held around the world. Source: AAP

The US State Department says less than 60, 000 people from seven majority-Mulsim countries have had visas cancelled under President Donald Trump's travel ban.

Fewer than 60,000 foreigners from seven majority-Muslim countries had their visas cancelled after President Donald Trump's executive order blocked them travelling to the US, the State Department says.

That figure contradicts a Justice Department lawyer's statement on Friday during a court hearing in Virginia about the ban. The lawyer in that case said about 100,000 visas had been revoked.

The State Department has clarified that the higher figure includes diplomatic and other visas that were actually exempted from the travel ban, as well as expired visas.

Trump's order, issued last Friday, temporarily bans travel for people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. It also temporarily halts the US refugee program.

The hearing was focused on Virginia's efforts to join a legal challenge from legal permanent residents.

Erez Reuveni, a lawyer with the Justice Department's Office of Immigration Litigation, urged US District Judge Leonie Brinkema to keep the lawsuit focused only on lawful permanent residents, who were the subject of the initial lawsuit.

Virginia sought to intervene in the case and expand it to include other people travelling to the US on visas.

Brinkema asked Reuveni how many people were affected by the executive order.

He said the number of cases involving lawful permanent residents is very small. But including all visas covered by the order, he said, "over 100,000 visas have been revoked". He did not provide details.

Will Cocks, a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs, clarified the figure after the court hearing.

"Fewer than 60,000 individuals' visas were provisionally revoked to comply with the executive order," Cocks said.

"We recognise that those individuals are temporarily inconvenienced while we conduct our review under the executive order.

To put that number in context, we issued over 11 million immigrant and nonimmigrant visas in fiscal year 2015.

Judge probes whether ban targets Muslims

A federal judge in Boston expressed skepticism about a civil rights group's claim that President Donald Trump's order banning citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States represented religious discrimination.

The hearing was the first in a series of legal challenges to the measure, which blocked people holding passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Federal judges in Seattle and Virginia will also weigh lawsuits filed by different states and advocacy groups.

Early on Sunday, a magistrate judge in Boston issued an injunction that for seven days blocked enforcement of the order, which the White House contends is necessary for national security.

"Where does it say Muslim countries?" US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton on Friday asked Matthew Segal, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representing the plaintiffs in the Boston case.

"If your honour's question is, 'Does the word 'Muslim' make a profound presence in this executive order?,' my answer is that it doesn't," Segal said. "But the president described what he was going to do as a Muslim ban and then he proceeded to carry it out."

Gorton shot back, "Am I to take the words of an executive at any point before or after election as a part of that executive order?"

Judge Gorton on Friday asked Justice Department lawyer Joshua Press how the countries had been selected.

Press responded that the list had come from a law passed in 2015 and amended early last year requiring that citizens of the seven countries apply for visas to enter the United States, "out of concern about the refugees that were coming, mainly from Syria at that time and terrorist events that were occurring in Europe."

Trump has told a Christian broadcaster that Syrian Christians would be given priority in applying for refugee status.

The challenges focus on religion because the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits the federal government from favouring one religion over another.

In Seattle, the states of Washington and Minnesota were together asking a judge to suspend the entire policy nationwide.

Should the Seattle judge rule that those states have legal standing to sue, it could help Democratic attorneys general take on Trump in court on issues beyond immigration.

Source AAP

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