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After judge lifts travel ban, Trump fumes, vows to act

U.S. President Donald Trump denounced a judge who lifted the travel ban he had imposed on citizens of seven mainly Muslim countries, vowing that his government would reinstate it as affected travelers scrambled to try to quickly enter the United States.

Last weekend thousands of people who had tickets to travel or immigrate to the United States were stopped in their tracks by Trump's executive order to restrict entry for refugees and for people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, a move he said was needed to prevent attacks.

But a federal judge in Seattle on Friday temporarily blocked Trump's order, allowing travel to resume. The Justice Department is expected to quickly argue in court to reverse that decision. In the meantime, people with valid visas were trying to book flights.

"The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump said on Twitter. It is unusual for a president to attack a member of the judiciary, which is an independent arm of the U.S. government.

The court ruling was the first move in what could be months of legal challenges to Trump's push to clamp down on immigration. His order set off chaos at airports across the United States last week where travelers were stranded and thousands of people gathered to protest.

Americans are sharply divided over Trump's order. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed 49 percent said they favored it while 41 percent did not.

"When a country is no longer able to say who can, and who cannot, come in & out, especially for reasons of safety & security - big trouble!" Trump tweeted.

The Washington state lawsuit is the first to test the broad constitutionality of Trump's travel ban, which has been condemned by rights groups that consider it discriminatory.

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The State Department said almost 60,000 visas had been suspended because of Trump's ban.

Travelers move with haste

In Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, Fuad Sharef and his family prepared to fly on Saturday to Istanbul and then New York before starting a new life in Nashville, Tennessee.

"I am very happy that we are going to travel today. Finally, we made it," said Sharef, who was stopped from boarding a New York-bound flight last week.

"I didn't surrender and I fought for my right and other people's right," he told Reuters.

Trump's executive order caused confusion from the time it was signed as border agents tried to figure out who it applied to and many legal permanent residents - "green card" holders - from the seven countries were temporarily detained at airports while trying to return to the United States.

At Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Saturday, Cleveland gastroenterologist Maher Salam waited for his mother, Rukaieh Sarioul, to arrive from Riyadh.

Sarioul, a Syrian citizen who has a U.S. green card, was supposed to arrive a week ago but had delayed her plans because of the order.

Salam called Trump's order "very discriminatory."

"You cannot really separate the executive order from the rhetoric that Mr. Trump used during the campaign," he said.

On Saturday, a small group of immigration lawyers, some holding signs in English and Arabic, gathered at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, offering services to passengers arriving from overseas destinations.

"This is an instance where people could really slip through the cracks and get detained and nobody would know," said John Biancamano, 35, an attorney volunteering his services.

'In God's hands'

The Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday it would return to its normal procedures for screening travelers but that the Justice Department would file for an emergency stay of the order "at the earliest possible time."

Some travelers told Reuters they were cautious about the sudden change. Overnight, some international airlines were uncertain about whether they could sell tickets to travelers from the countries listed in Trump's ban.

"I will not say if I have hope or not. I wait, watch and then I build my hopes," said Josephine Abu Assaleh, who was stopped from entering the United States after landing in Philadelphia last week with five members of her family.

Abu Assaleh, 60, and her family were granted U.S. visas in 2016, some 13 years after they initially made their applications.

"We left the matter with the lawyers. When they tell us the decision has been canceled, we will decide whether to go back or not," she told Reuters in Damascus, speaking by telephone.

Virtually all refugees also were barred by Trump's order, upending the lives of thousands of people who had spent years seeking asylum in the United States.

Friday night's court decision sent refugee advocacy and resettlement agencies scrambling to help people in the pipeline.

Iraqi refugee Nizar al-Qassab, 52, told Reuters in Lebanon: "If it really has been frozen, I thank God, because my wife and children should have been in America by now."

He said his family had been due to travel to the United States for resettlement on Jan. 31. The trip was canceled two days before that and he was now waiting for a phone call from U.N. officials overseeing their case.

"It's in God's hands," he said.

Additional reporting by Issam Abdullah in Beirut, Dan Levine in Seattle, Alana Wise in New York and Yegenah Torbati in Washington; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Louise Heavens and Bill Trott.

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