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Trump Muslim ban faces legal deadline as travellers head to US

Trump said judge who opposed travel ban should be blamed for any potential attack, in a string of angry tweets
Iranian student visa holder Sara Yarjani, who was sent back to Vienna last week under US President Donald Trump's travel ban, speaks to reporters after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday (Reuters)

US President Donald Trump's temporary immigration ban is facing the first of several crucial legal hurdles that could determine whether he can push through the most controversial and far reaching policy of his first two weeks in office.

The US government has a deadline of 5pm PST on Monday (1am on Tuesday) to submit additional legal documents justifying the executive order that temporarily bars immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries and the entry of refugees.

The uncertainty caused by a judge's stay of the ban - imposed by a federal judge in Seattle on Friday - has opened a window for travellers from the seven affected countries to enter the United States and provoked the ire of the president.

Trump has reacted with attacks on the federal judge and the wider court system, which he blames for blocking his efforts to restrict immigration, a central promise of the Republican's 2016 presidential campaign.

In a string of tweets overnight into Monday, Trump said the judge who ordered the stay should be blamed in the event of any potential attack.

"Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril," he tweeted on Sunday. "If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"

His vice president, Mike Pence, who made the rounds on Sunday's political talk shows, called the decision "frustrating" and told Fox News: "We will move very quickly. We are going to win the arguments because we will take the steps necessary to protect the country, which the president of the United States has the authority to do."

The uncertainty has created what may be a short-lived opportunity for travellers from the seven affected countries to get into the US.

Iranian student Sara Yarjani's visa was marked "revoked" in red Sharpie pen - but the visa holder was attempting a return to Los Angeles on Sunday after she was sent back to Vienna, where she had been visiting her parents last week under the immigration order.

Her sister, Sahara Muranovic, said Yarjani got on a flight back to Los Angeles once she learned that Trump's order had been blocked. She was slated to arrive on Sunday afternoon.

"This is our only window," Muranovic said. "Maybe they'll blow it again by Monday."

A spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration, Leonard Doyle, confirmed on Sunday that about 2,000 refugees were ready to travel to the US. "We expect a small number of refugees to arrive in the US on Monday, February 6th. They are mainly from Jordan and include people fleeing war and persecution in Syria," he said in an email.

Iraqi Fuad Sharef, his wife and three children spent two years obtaining US visas. They had packed up to move to America last week, but were turned back to Iraq after a failed attempt to board a US-bound flight from Cairo.

On Sunday, the family checked in for a Turkish Airlines flight to New York from Istanbul.

"Yeah, we are very excited. We are very happy," Sharef told Reuters TV. "Finally, we have been cleared. We are allowed to enter the United States."

Rana Shamasha, 32, an Iraqi refugee in Lebanon, was due to travel to the US with her two sisters and mother on 1 February to join relatives in Detroit until the trip was cancelled as a result of the travel ban.

She was waiting to hear from UN officials overseeing their case. "If they tell me there is a plane tomorrow morning, I will go. If they tell me there is one in an hour, I will go," she told Reuters by telephone in Beirut. "I no longer have a house here, work, or anything."

Trump's tweet storm

On Saturday, the Manhattan property mogul had unleashed a string of fiery tweets defending his policy and attacking federal judge James Robart, who on Friday blocked the ban nationwide pending a wider legal review.

"The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump wrote on Twitter, in rare criticism of a judge by a sitting president. 

Asked by multiple networks whether Trump's comment about Robart was out of line, Pence defended his boss, saying he was not questioning the judge's legitimacy but simply expressing his disagreement with the ruling.

"Every president has a right to be critical of the other branches of the federal government," Pence told CBS News.

Trump's executive order slapped a blanket ban on entry for nationals of the seven countries for 90 days and barred all refugees for 120 days. Refugees from Syria were blocked indefinitely.

In an appeal filed late Saturday, the Justice Department said that suspending the ban was causing "irreparable harm" to the American public.

It said Robart's ruling had run afoul of constitutional separation of powers, and "second-guesses the president's national security judgment".

But in the early hours of Sunday morning, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request calling for the travel ban to be immediately reinstated, without offering a reason.

The court asked the states of Washington and Minnesota, which had filed the original suit over the ban, to provide additional documents by 0759 GMT Monday.

And the Justice Department was given until 2300 GMT Monday to complete its legal dossier.

Trump blasted the federal courts for a second day on Sunday and warned that the judiciary could be placing Americans in "peril".

"Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" the president tweeted, after uncharacteristically taking a nearly day-long break from Twitter.

"I have instructed Homeland Security to check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult!"

Meanwhile, in line with Robart's ruling, travellers from the targeted countries with valid visas began arriving on American soil, while others prepared to set off for the US.

In New York, 33-year-old Sudanese doctor Kamal Fadlalla rejoiced - after a week blocked in his home country, he was back in the Big Apple with friends and colleagues.

"It feels great," Fadlalla told AFP on Sunday at John F Kennedy International Airport. "It was a tough week actually."

In Syria, a 25-year-old law graduate who asked not to be identified said he was driving to Beirut on Sunday to catch a flight to Amman and then a connecting flight to New York.

"I jumped up and haven't been able to sleep since. I'm ecstatic," the man told AFP.

In Iran, a 30-year-old woman told AFP she had rebooked her tickets to the US and was ready to travel late Sunday to see her brother.

"Until yesterday, I was completely disappointed. We have some new hope after this news, but it's 50-50. I am willing to take this risk," said the woman from the city of Shiraz, who did not want to give her name.

The State Department has said visa holders from the seven countries are allowed to travel to the US as long as their documents have not been "physically cancelled".

The department had earlier said up to 60,000 people had their visas revoked as a result of Trump's order.

The restrictions have fuelled numerous protests at home and abroad - from London to Washington and Palm Beach, where Trump was spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago retreat - now dubbed the "Winter White House."

Hundreds of expatriate workers rallied on Sunday in Hong Kong - many of them women from the Philippines or mainly Muslim Indonesia.

Also on Sunday, dozens of Trump supporters rallied in front of Trump Tower in New York, urging Americans to give him a chance - but they ended up in a face-off with a dozen counter-protesters.

"He's been in office less than three weeks - he's entitled to have a fair shot and to run the government the way he wants to," said Cindy Grosz, one of the co-organisers.