Virginia to Join Lawsuit Over Immigration Order; College Students Barred From Traveling

About 60,000 people have had their visas revoked, the State Department said

Virginia will be allowed to join a lawsuit challenging aspects of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, a judge ruled Friday. 

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema greatly expands the scope of the lawsuit, which was initially focused only on legal permanent residents, commonly called green-card holders.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also is seeking protections for those on student and work visas, and those with refugee status.

"We're going to be working to help folks now who are harmed by the immigration ban, including students, professors, workers in Virginia," he said. 

More than 100,000 people have had visas revoked since the ban went into effect, a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer told the judge during the hearing. Erez Reuveni of the Department of Justice's Office of Immigration Litigation, Civil Side provided the information when the judge pressed him for numbers.

"The number 100,000 really sucked the air out of my lungs. I think you could almost hear the collective gasp in the courtroom," Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the Legal Aid Justice Center said. 

However, following the hearing, a U.S. Department of State spokesman said that number was, in fact, fewer than 60,000. 


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"Fewer than 60,000 individuals' visas were provisionally revoked to comply with the executive order," a statement from spokesman William Cocks said. "We recognize 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 non-immigrant visas in fiscal year 2015. As always, national security is our top priority when issuing visas. "

The order has disrupted families expecting reunions and students expecting to get back to campus, Brinkema said.

"It has obviously thrown hundreds of thousands of people into states of great discomfort," she said. 

The commonwealth based much of its argument to join the lawsuit on the impact this case has had on public colleges and universities. Stuart Raphael, who argued for the commonwealth, said at least 350 students and faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, George Mason University (GMU), William and Mary and the University of Virginia are fearful of leaving the United States now because they worry they'd never get back. 

A 23-year-old GMU student, Najwa Elyazgi, is stranded in Turkey after officials told her she could not board a plane back to Virginia. 

Elyazgi, a college senior with nearly a 4.0 GPA, is from Libya and has attended GMU since 2014. She visited family at home on her winter break. As she was in the air, Trump signed the order. She was told during a layover in Istanbul that she could not board her flight to the U.S. 

"We are working really hard to try to get her back," Herring said, "and we're hopeful that we'll be successful there."

Brinkema said she is encouraged that the government is trying to resolve the cases involving those legal permanent residents who were detained at U.S. airports and sent back.

Brinkema -- who was the judge for the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- said she had never seen the public outpouring that she has seen in this case.

"This order touched something in the United States that I've never seen before. People are quite upset," she said.

Brinkema said Trump's order was issued so quickly that it was "quite clear it was not all that thought-out. As a result, there has been chaos."

Brinkema called the revoked visas a problem.

"It's a problem when the government has gone through a vetting process and without any significant kind of fact-finding or any kind of hard evidence, that there is need to rescind those decisions, to revoke them," she said of people suddenly stripped of visas.

The next hearing in the case is next Friday.

The executive order signed by Trump suspends immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and all refugee resettlement for 120 days. It provides exceptions for refugees who practice a religion that makes them a minority in their home country; Trump has said he wanted to give persecuted Christians priority treatment in the refugee program.

A federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked the ban Friday at the request of Washington state and Minnesota. U.S. District Judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order that's effective nationwide.

This story has been updated to include the new numbers provided by the U.S. Department of State.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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