After a day of concern and chaos, a federal judge in New York blocked deportations nationwide of those detained on entry to the United States after an executive order from President Donald Trump targeted citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Judge Ann Donnelly of the US District Court in Brooklyn granted a request from the American Civil Liberties Union to stop the deportations after determining that the risk of injury to those detained by being returned to their home countries necessitated the decision.

Minutes after the judge's ruling in New York, another came in Virginia when US District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a temporary restraining order to block for seven days the removal of any green-card holders being detained at Dulles International Airport. Brinkema's action also ordered that lawyers have access to those held there because of the ban.

Trump's order reverberated across the world yesterday, making it increasingly clear that the measure he had promised during his presidential campaign was casting a wider net than even his opponents had feared.

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Confusion and fear among immigrant advocates mounted throughout the day as travellers from the Middle East were detained at US airports or sent home. A lawsuit filed on behalf of two Iraqi men challenged Trump's executive action, which was signed on Saturday and initially cast as applying to refugees and migrants.

But as the day progressed, Administration officials confirmed that the sweeping order also targeted US legal residents from the named countries - green-card holders - who were abroad when it was signed.

Also subject to being barred entry into the US are dual nationals, or people born in one of the seven countries who hold passports even from US allies, such as the United Kingdom.

The virtually unprecedented measures triggered harsh reactions from not only Democrats and others who typically advocate for immigrants but also key sectors of the US business community. Leading technology companies recalled scores of overseas employees and sharply criticised the President.

Legal experts forecast a wave of litigation over the order, calling it unconstitutional. Canada announced it would accept asylum applications from US green-card holders.

Yet Trump, who centered his campaign in part on his vow to crack down on illegal immigrants and impose what became known as his "Muslim ban," was unbowed. As White House officials insisted that the measure strengthens national security, the President stood squarely behind it.

Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, after earlier in the day two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country. Photo / AP
Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, after earlier in the day two Iraqi refugees were detained while trying to enter the country. Photo / AP

"It's not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. "You see it at the airports, you see it all over. It's working out very nicely, and we're going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years."

In New York, Donnelly seemed to have little patience for the Government's arguments, which focused heavily on the fact that the two defendants named in the lawsuit had already been released.

Donnelly noted that those detained were suffering mostly from the bad fortune of travelling while the ban went into effect. "Our own government presumably approved their entry to the country," she said at one point, noting that, had it been two days prior, those detained would have been granted admission without question. During the hearing, ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt informed the court that he had received word of a deportation to Syria, scheduled within the hour. That prompted Donnelly to ask if the Government could assure that the person would not suffer irreparable harm. Receiving no such assurance, she granted the stay to the broad group included in the ACLU's request.

A senior Department of Homeland Security official had no comment about the rulings and said the department was consulting its lawyers.

The official said enforcement of the President's order had created minimal disruption, given that only a small number of the several hundred thousand travellers arriving at US airports daily had been affected.

Demonstrators sit down in the concourse and hold a sign that reads
Demonstrators sit down in the concourse and hold a sign that reads "We are America," as more than 1,000 people gather at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Photo / AP

Nationwide, he said, 109 people had been denied entry into the United States. All had been in transit when Trump signed the order, and some had already departed the US on flights while others were still being detained awaiting flights. Also, 173 people had not been allowed to board US-bound planes at foreign airports. The official said that officers doing case-by-case reviews had granted 81 waivers so far to green-card holders.

DHS began implementing the President's order immediately after he signed it, according to the official. He declined to say whether the department had an operational plan ready at that time.

Though several congressional Republicans denounced the order, the majority remained silent, and a few voiced crucial support - including, most prominently, House Speaker Paul Ryan who had rejected Trump's anti-Muslim proposals during the campaign. "This is not a religious test, and it is not a ban on people of any religion," Ryan said.

"This order does not affect the vast majority of Muslims in the world."

The President's order suspends admission to the United States of all refugees for 120 days and bars for 90 days the entry of any citizen from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

That list excludes several majority-Muslim nations - notably Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia - where the Trump Organisation, now run by the president's adult sons, is active and which in some cases have also faced troublesome issues with terrorism.

According to the text of the order, the restriction applies to countries that have already been excluded from programmes allowing people to travel to the US without a visa because of terrorism concerns.

Hewing closely to nations already named as terrorism concerns elsewhere in law might have allowed the White House to avoid angering powerful and wealthy majority-Muslim allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Sabrina Sheikh, left, a naturalized citizen who immigrated here from Pakistan at age two, and Arsalan Bukhari, right, hold up a flag. Photo / AP
Sabrina Sheikh, left, a naturalized citizen who immigrated here from Pakistan at age two, and Arsalan Bukhari, right, hold up a flag. Photo / AP

Amid widespread confusion about how the order will be enforced, some Administration officials acknowledged that its rollout had been chaotic. Officials tried to reassure travellers and their families, pointing out that green-card holders in the US will not be affected and noting that the DHS is allowed to grant waivers to those individuals and others deemed to not pose a security threat.

It can take years for someone to become a green-card holder, or lawful permanent resident authorised to permanently live and work in the country.

Officials made clear that the federal officers detaining refugees and migrants with valid US visas and restricting them from entering the country were following orders handed down by top DHS officials, at the White House's behest.

Stories of families split as migrants are turned back

Sponsors crushed

The Rev Heather Kirk-Davidoff, pastor of the Kittamaqundi Community Church in Columbia, Maryland, got choked up talking about the Afghan refugees who were scheduled to fly into Dulles International Airport on February 8.

The family - two parents and four young children - had been planning to live in Columbia, and now are grappling with President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, which will bar them from entering the US.

Kirk-Davidoff said her church is sponsoring the family with a Baltimore refugee resettlement organisation, and had co-ordinated with five other local congregations to prepare a home: a three-bedroom, furnished townhouse. They had stocked the pantry and planned to host a catered and home-cooked Afghan dinner to welcome them. The five other congregations who had pitched in included Catholics, Jews and Muslims, she said. People volunteered to drive the family to appointments and help their children - ages 14 months, 6, 9 and 11 - get signed up for school.

Kirk-Davidoff said more than 50 people who prepared for the family's arrival are "crushed" and "feel this action doesn't represent what we know to be true about this country".

Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Photo / AP
Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Photo / AP

Mum rejected

Behzad Honarjou, 43, was supposed to pick up his mother, 70-year-old Shahin Haffanpour, at the airport yesterday. But when she arrived from Iran via Dubai she was told that she would be sent back home. "I don't know what to do. They said that they will send her back tomorrow."

He looked for a lawyer to file an emergency petition, but the courts were closed.

Haffanpour has an immigrant's visa, her son said, which she applied for a year ago and received in September at the US Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. She took several months to leave Iran because she had to rent out her home and settle affairs.

"As soon as she entered the US, she would have been a green card holder," said Honarjou, who won a visa lottery in 2010 and became a US citizen a year ago.

No reunion

A knot of volunteer lawyers and people awaiting news of their detained family members gathered at the international terminal of San Francisco International Airport. Among them were the mother and uncle of a 30-year-old Iranian man who was detained at the airport when his flight arrived.

The detainee, Hossein, was coming to reunite with his fiancee, already living in the US, and his mother, who was granted asylum six years ago after converting to Christianity. Hossein also converted and was to be baptised tomorrow, said his uncle, Ben. Now, his family has been told that Hossein could be sent back to Tehran on a flight as early as today.

Six detained

Sarah Assali said that six of her family members from Syria - two of her uncles, their wives and two cousins - were detained after arriving at Philadelphia.

They were Christian immigrants who had travelled more than 24 hours, from Damascus to Beirut and Doha and finally Philadelphia. They had visas to join their family members. Three hours after they arrived, they were put on a plane back to Doha, Assali said. They weren't allowed to call or contact their family in the US before they were removed. They managed to make a brief call via in-flight wireless Internet to alert their family.