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America began allowing foreigners from seven predominantly Muslim nations into its borders Saturday after the government stopped enforcing President Donald Trump's travel ban at airports — setting up a contentious fight with the White House over the immigration order.
The Department of Homeland Security said it will no longer force airlines to block those foreigners with visas from boarding planes, while the State Department also announced it has reversed the cancellation of visas under Trump's executive order.
The order had barred people carrying visas from Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days out of terrorism concerns. In addition, refugees were banned for 120 days and all Syrian refugees were stopped indefinitely from traveling to America.
The State Department had said up to 60,000 foreigners had their visas "provisionally revoked" since the order went into effect a week ago.
But the department's decision to overturn the policy essentially backs up federal court Judge James L. Robart who on Friday issued a temporary restraining order challenging Trump's executive order and giving visa-holders from the seven countries safe passage.
"Those individuals with visas that were not physically cancelled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid," the State Department said.
On Saturday, normal air service resumed following Judge Robart's decision, which Trump blasted in a series of tweets as "ridiculous."
Qatar Airways issued a statement saying that "as directed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection," nationals of the seven affected countries and all refugees presenting a valid U.S. visa or green card allowing them to work in America can travel there.
Another airline, Egyptair, agreed: "There is no stopping any passenger if they have a visa," Egyptair's manager for flights to New York, Hossam Hussein, told NBC by phone. He said people from any nation could travel to the United States.
Lufthansa, too, said passengers previously blocked were now free to fly.
The reinstating of visas was met with relief at airports.
Amir Rashidi, 55, of Seattle, said his niece had flown into Boston on Saturday afternoon from Iran. Despite holding a green card, she was previously barred from entering the United States.
Rashidi said he heard from an attorney that Lufthansa was agreeing to board passengers with immigrant visas, and he contacted his niece, Mahsa Fazmali, to buy a ticket. She scrambled to board the next plane.
"She is happy and we’re very thankful," Rashidi said after hearing she landed in Boston safely.
"The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people"
Early Saturday, the International Air Transport Association sent a note to all airlines confirming that the ban, for the moment, was completely inoperative. Visas that were rescinded have now been reinstated, the note said. And business was back to the way it was before Trump issued his executive order.
"It is as if the Executive Order never existed,” the note said.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying it had "suspended any and all actions" regarding the affected sections of the executive order. "DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure."
The statement, however, warned that the Department of Justice intended to file an emergency legal action to overturn the stay.
Trump himself expressed his dismay at the court ruling in a series of tweets on Saturday morning, saying "the opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!"
Affected travelers, meanwhile, rushed to find ways to fly back into the United States with the change in rules — worried it wouldn't last.
“I heard about the judge’s ruling and I immediately got on a plane to Frankfurt (in Germany) to see if we got a connecting flight to Boston,” said Saira Rafiei who is Iranian and heard about the news while she was in Tehran.
NBC News spoke to her as she waited for a plane in Frankfurt.
The temporary restraining order applies nationwide, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office said.
"The Constitution prevailed today," Ferguson said in a statement. "No one is above the law — not even the President."
The restraining order will be in effect until Robart considers a legal challenge filed by the U.S. attorney general, Ferguson’s office said.
The White House press secretary said the administration would seek an emergency stay at the earliest possible time, and initially called the judge's action an "outrageous order." An updated statement issued a short time later dropped the term "outrageous."
"The president’s order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people," both statements said.
The executive order, and its swift and seemingly unplanned implementation, had created chaos in airports around the U.S. with people detained and families separated.
Among those reported temporarily detained were an Iraqi refugee who worked with the U.S. government, green card holders, students and professors. Protests erupted at several large airports across the country after Trump signed the order.