Tuesday, February 07, 2017

U.S. visa ban resulted in worst international airline disruption since 9/11 - by Wayne Madsen report

 U.S. visa ban resulted in worst international airline disruption since 9/11
 by Wayne Madsen Report
President Donald Trump's ill-planned and very poorly enacted travel ban on U.S. visa holders from seven predominantly Muslim nations resulted in the worst disruption of air traffic around the world since the terror attack of 9/11. In defense of his actions, Trump said he banned the visa holders to protect the American people from terrorism. Yet, his actions resulted in confusion in the airline industry only surpassed by the act of terrorism that disrupted air travel for weeks in 2001. All domestic U.S. and international flights to the U.S. were grounded in the wake of the 9/11 attack. 

When confronted with the bedlam caused by his executive order banning the designated visa holders, Trump lied and claimed all the worldwide disruptions were caused by a Delta airlines computer glitch and protests against the ban held at domestic U.S. airports.

Trump's travel ban originally extended to U.S. permanent residents, or "green card" holders, from the seven nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly who was not adequately briefed on the executive order before it was issued on January 27, reversed the ban on green card holders two days later. The Washington Post reported that Trump political adviser Steve Bannon traveled to Kelly's office and ordered him to reverse his waiver on green card holders. Kelly refused and told Bannon that he worked for the president, not for Bannon. The tensions between the White House and cabinet-level departments have not been seen in Washington since the Watergate scandal that drove President Richard Nixon from office.

After several U.S. visa holders and permanent residents were detained at U.S. airports, with many being returned to their U.S. gateway airports of origin, a series of orders from federal judges in Boston, New York, Virginia, Seattle, and San Francisco suspended Trump's executive order in whole or in part. As of February 5, Trump's order suspending for 90-days the visas from nationals of the seven designated nations and any refugees is suspended. The temporary restraining order against Trump's order was issued by Judge James Robart in Seattle. Robart, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, was denounced in a Trump tweet as a "so-called judge." Such public presidential language about members of the federal judiciary is unprecedented. Later, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Robart's order, thus maintaining the suspension of Trump's travel ban until an appeal by the Trump Justice Department. Earlier, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a career Justice Department lawyer, was fired by Trump for refusing to defend the executive order in federal courts. The Seattle suit against the executive order was brought by the Attorneys-General of Washington state and Minnesota. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson stated that his lawsuit was prompted by families affected by the order, as well as the Washington-based firms Amazon and Expedia that were adversely impacted by Trump's actions. 

The travel ban also extended to U.S. borders and ports-of-entry. Canadians and others possessing dual citizenship with the the seven designated countries were refused entry at border crossings in Washington state, Michigan, and other states.

Trump's travel ban resulted in chaos at a number of airports that are final gateways to travel to the United States. The revocation of 100,000 U.S. visas resulted in delayed flights from Middle East airports that normally see huge traffic from Iran and Iraq. These include Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. A number of dual nationals who were both citizens of the seven designated countries and other nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and Sweden, were also affected by the ban until Secretary Kelly was able to waive the order's application to green card holders and dual nationals. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the visa order resulted in massive confusion among the 265 airlines that are its members.

Dubai-based Emirates airline said it was forced to change its pilot and flight attendant rosters to comply with the suddenly-announced U.S. visa ban. This resulted in delayed daily flights to 11 U.S. cities. Other large airlines were forced, without prior notice, to check on their pilots' and flight attendants' passport and visa status. The same dilemma was faced by cruise line operators and merchant lines serving U.S. ports of call. Their crews hail from several countries and include a number of green card holders and dual nationals.

Absurdly, the ban resulted in former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magnus Bondevik, traveling on a Norwegian diplomatic passport that clearly identified him as "former prime minister," was detained and questioned upon arrival at Dulles International Airport. A 2014 Iranian visa in Bondevik's passport triggered the reaction of over-zealous federal agents. Bondevik, a Lutheran minister, was traveling to the United States to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where Trump bizarrely asked for prayers for former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's poor television ratings on "The Apprentice." Trump appeared encouraged by the laughter from the audience, composed of Washington politicians, diplomats, and jurists, as well as by foreign ambassadors and leaders. However, some of those in attendance said the audience was not laughing with Trump but at him.

The situation at London Heathrow International Airport was hectic, with scores of U.S.-bound passengers, including entire families, refused boarding on flights. Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and EgyptAir flights were among those affected by delays out of Heathrow, one of the world's busiest airports. There were similar hectic scenes as passengers were refused boarding at airports in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Cairo, Addis Ababa, and Istanbul. Feeder airports, such as Muscat International in Oman, were forced to refuse boarding to expatriate workers in the sultanate who held U.S. green cards, some of whom were connecting to U.S.-bound flights in Istanbul.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said he may kick out U.S. Customs and Border Protection "pre-clearance" operations from Ireland's Shannon International Airport in response to the U.S. travel ban and its adverse impact on both Shannon and Dublin airports.

Passengers only transiting U.S. airports en route to other destinations were also denied entry to the U.S. airports. Nationals of the seven affected countries were denied boarding at airports ranging from San José, Costa Rica and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas because they had to transit U.S. international airports to board their connecting flights to Europe and onward. There was some pressure from Bahamian politicians for the government to expel U.S. Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facilities from Nassau and Freeport. 

For passengers who were already on planes heading to the United States, there was chaos at U.S. airports where scores of passengers with valid U.S. visas, green cards, and refugee immigration papers were detained for several hours. Arriving passengers were detained for several hours at New York's JFK, Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington Dulles, San Francisco, and Dallas.

Trump White House officials have also lied when they claim the visa ban is not a "Muslim ban," even though that is what Trump called his proposal during the campaign. The visa ban is not merely limited to the seven designated states but also to other nations, as two athletes invited to a snowshoe competition in Saranac Lake, New York discovered when they applied for a visa at the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Their visas were refused because the athletes are Muslims from the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The U.S. embassy denied the two visas because they are Muslims. However, India is not one of the designated nations under the visa ban. Nor is Australia "officially" affected by the ban, yet one Australian-Iranian national holding an Australian passport was denied a U.S. visa under Trump's ban. U.S. embassy officials in Copenhagen said Trump's ban applies to the 57,424 Danish nationals having dual citizenship with the seven designated Muslim nations. Israeli immigration lawyers warned that Israeli Jews born in any of the seven countries, particularly those from Iran, Iraq, and Yemen, were likely subject to the U.S. travel ban.

Students with U.S. visas from the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia, have also been denied entry to the United States because Washington considers Somaliland to be a part of Somalia, which is covered by the visa ban. However, Somaliland is a partner of the U.S. in efforts to combat piracy in adjacent waters. 

Although the Trump ban has been temporarily suspended by judicial order, the White House has indicated that the ban could be extended to additional nations. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus hinted that Pakistan was likely to be added to the list. If such an order is carried out with the incompetence and lack of foresight of the first order, the world can expect another massive disruption in international travel.