A United States federal court has granted an emergency stay blocking the deportation of migrants detained at airports around the United States due to Donald Trump's immigration ban.

The federal court for the Eastern District of New York issued the stay today after only two of 12 refugees held at JFK airport were released, after 14 and 24 hours respectively. The ACLU had filed a petition on their behalf, but the stay is effective nationwide in the US.

Under the stay, none of the travellers held at airports across the United States can be sent back. However, the measure doesn't mean they have to be allowed into the country - leaving them in a grey area.

Protesters gather at O'Hare International Airport after more than a dozen were detained. Photo / AP
Protesters gather at O'Hare International Airport after more than a dozen were detained. Photo / AP

Earlier on today, Donald Trump defended his new immigration measures, which prompted outrage as migrants were barred from entering the United States, including families of refugees, legal permanent residents and Ivy League students.

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The president denied that his executive order, which bars refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, was a Muslim ban.

He maintained that the ban was "working very nicely" while chaos broke out in airports as migrants were stopped and some non-American citizens realised they were now barred from the country where they were studying or had lived, perhaps for years.

Trump's comments came as seven refugees bound for the US were stopped from boarding a plane in Cairo on Saturday and 12 migrants were detained in New York overnight because they arrived just after the executive order was signed, prompting a massive protest and a cab strike. Additional reports of dozens of people being stopped from entering the US or booted off airplanes have been pouring in.

"It's not a Muslim ban, but we are totally prepared," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office this afternoon, according to The Hill.

US President Donald Trump signs one of his executive orders in the Oval Office. Photo / AP
US President Donald Trump signs one of his executive orders in the Oval Office. Photo / AP

"It's working out very nicely. You see it in the airports, you see it all over. It's working out very nicely and we are going to have a very, very strict ban and we are going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years."

WHAT IS THE EMERGENCY STAY?

The emergency stay issued today by a federal court is a temporary measure that preserves the status quo pending a permanent ruling.

It means that none of the travellers currently held at airports across the nation can be deported back to their countries.

That is because Judge Ann Donnelly ruled that doing so would cause the travellers irreparable harm.

The stay does not, however, mean that the travellers have to be let into the United States.

It is not a ruling on Donald Trump's executive order enforcing the immigration ban.

Lawyers had filed a petition on behalf of two out of 12 refugees detained at JFK airport.

The men, two Iraqi nationals, had valid visas. One of them had worked for the US Government for years.

ACLU attorneys had filed a petition on their behalf, but the stay is effective nationwide.

The lawyers who handled the case will now file for class certification, which means other people affected by the order will be able to benefit from the stay as part of a class action.

The stay issued today blocks the situation pending a permanent ruling. The ACLU lawyers who handled the case will now file for class certification, which means other people affected by the order will be able to benefit from the stay as part of a class action.

Southern Methodist University student Osama Aloabi, left, and his brother, a SMU graduate, Tarek Alolabi, right, demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order. Photo / AP
Southern Methodist University student Osama Aloabi, left, and his brother, a SMU graduate, Tarek Alolabi, right, demonstrate against President Donald Trump's executive order. Photo / AP

The measure means detained travellers cannot be deported back to their home countries. but it does not force authorities to allow them into the US. Judge Ann Donnelly ruled that sending them back would expose them to irreparable harm.

"This ruling preserves the status quo and ensures that people who have been granted permission to be in this country are not illegally removed off US soil," deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project Lee Gelernt, who argued the case, said.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D Romero added: "Clearly the judge understood the possibility for irreparable harm to hundreds of immigrants and lawful visitors to this country.

"Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders. On week one, Donald Trump suffered his first loss in court.'

Panic previously broke out after Department of Homeland Security issued a directive at 4.30pm on Friday (Saturday NZT) enforcing Trump's executive order to close down the borders to refugees and visa holders from a list of banned Muslim-majority countries.

In addition to Iran, the other countries on Trump's blacklist are Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

Reports of people being detained were coming from all around the United States today. "They're literally pouring in by the minute," director of the International Refugee Assistance Project Becca Heller told the New York Times.

About 50 people were held at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, USA Today reported. Fifty people were also detained at Dulles International Airport, where protesters gathered. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring have said the state could take legal action against the ban.

One Yale student said he would be unable to attend the prestigious Ivy League university. Another student from the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology said he was barred from boarding a plane.

A Stanford University student, a Sudanese national and legal permanent resident with a green card, was held for eight hours at JFK before being able to return to California.

An Iranian scientist was meant to fly to Boston to study cardiovascular medicine at Harvard but has now had his visa suspended indefinitely.

"This outstanding young scientist has enormous potential to make contributions that will improve our understanding of heart disease, and he has already been thoroughly vetted," Professor Thomas Michel, who was going to supervise the student, told The New York Times.

Up to 13 people were detained at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, KUOW reported.