The Monday after the tumultuous roll-out of his travel ban, President Trump took to Twitter to declare, “Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning.” The figure — even then — seemed to seriously understate the impact of the president’s executive order, which appeared to affect tens of thousands of visas and clearly extended well beyond those relatively few foreign travelers trying to make their way into the country during the last weekend in January.
On Thursday, the Justice Department added another wrinkle, turning over to the ACLU a list of 746 names of those who were held, in any capacity, because of the executive order during a 26½ hour stretch from Jan. 28 to Jan. 29 — before the president’s tweet.
So why the serious disparity?
A Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment. A White House spokeswoman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
A Department of Homeland Security official said the difference in counts is likely attributable to officials taking different snapshots in time. As flights landed initially, the official said, 109 people were detained. But as more came in, the number swelled.
It was not immediately clear why the president would then use an out-of-date figure.
Exactly what happened to each of the 746 people also is unclear. Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s national Immigrants’ Rights Project, said that at a court hearing Friday, government lawyers indicated the majority were lawful permanent residents. Some might have been processed into the United States with relatively minor hassle, while others could have faced prolonged detainment or even more significant hardships.
Gelernt said the government initially turned over just a list of names, but they agreed on Friday to identify those who had made it into the country and those who had not. The government had been ordered to turn over a list of anyone who, from 9:37 p.m. on Jan. 28 to a minute before midnight on Jan. 29, had been “held, including being processed, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection pursuant to the [Executive Order].” The parties agreed not to make the list public. Gelernt said civil liberties lawyers also had identified 10 people it believes should have been on the list but were not, and the government agreed to investigate why.
The government has offered conflicting numbers of people affected by the executive order before. Earlier this month, a Justice Department lawyer declared more than 100,000 visas had been provisionally revoked as a result of it, while the State Department said the figure was actually 60,000. Officials ultimately agreed on the State Department’s count. That figure, rather than the number detained or processed, is a more accurate assessment of the executive order’s impact, reflecting all those whose travel would be affected.
Federal courts have now put Trump’s travel ban on hold, and Trump has said he plans to issue a rewritten executive order. The ACLU had sought the list of 746 people as part of an effort to identify those whose travel was affected while that suspension was in place, particularly those who might have been removed from the country.
In an earlier court filing, Todd A. Hoffman, a Customs and Border Protection official, declared that 141 people had their visas physically marked “revoked” after the ban went into effect — 44 at U.S. airports and another 97 at locations abroad. The 44 at U.S. airports, he wrote, “voluntarily withdrew their applications for admission to the United States and returned to a foreign destination on an outbound flight,” but 24 had since traveled back and been allowed into the country.
All of the 97 stopped at foreign locations also withdrew their applications, though 14 had since been allowed back in, Hoffman wrote. Some travelers have accused U.S. officials of coercing them into signing away their rights to be in the country.