The Guardian: US airports on frontline as Trump immigration ban causes chaos and controversy


 in New York,  at JFK international airport and  in London Saturday 28 January 2017 

Homeland security says green card holders included while ACLU files lawsuit after two Iraqi men detained at New York’s JFK airport despite having valid visas

Donald Trump’s executive order to close America’s borders to refugees and immigrants from some Muslim-majority countries caused chaos on Saturday, as people who had flown to the US were held at major airports while others were barred from boarding flights or were pulled off planes overseas.

By Saturday evening, there were 11 people in detention at New York City’s John F Kennedy airport who had arrived from Iraq and other barred countries, according to two Democratic members of Congress, Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, who joined protests at the airport.

According to representatives of immigration and civil rights group who spoke to reporters on a group call, other travellers were being held in Atlanta, Houston and Detroit.

Pre-approved refugees, students and workers holding visas and residency green cards were barred from flights to the US, according to reports emerging from Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Cairo and other cities across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

As confusion reigned, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed to Reuters that people with green cards, making them legal permanent US residents, were included in the ban.

“It will bar green card holders,” wrote Gillian Christensen, acting DHS spokeswoman, in an email.

Trump’s executive order, signed on Friday in Washington, temporarily banned refugees from around the world, blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely and halted entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

A state department spokesman confirmed to the Guardian that travellers who have dual nationality between a country on the list and another non-US country, for instance UK-Iraqi or Canadian-Somali citizenship,are barred from entering the US for 90 days. The order provides for giving priority to religious minorities in those Muslim countries; Trump has said the US will in future prioritise Christian refugees.

In New York City, two Iraqi refugees were detained at JFK airport. One, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked in Iraq for the US government for 10 years. The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to the US to join his wife who had worked for a US contractor.

Congressman Nadler told the Guardian that anyone who was detained at an airport should “not sign anything and ask for a lawyer”.

“Donald Trump should revoke the executive order,” he said. “It’s unconstitutional on the grounds of religious discrimination.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the detention of the two Iraqi men, and Darweesh was allowed to enter the US on Saturday afternoon. He spoke before around 100 protesters outside terminal 4 at JFK airport, who shouted: “No hate, no war, refugees are welcome here.”

Darweesh told the Guardian he felt no ill will toward airport authorities. “They are good people,” he said. “They are just doing their duty.”

Becca Heller, executive director of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), said “dozens remain detained” around the US amid confusion between local authorities, federal agencies, attorneys and the White House. “Nobody knows at this point.”

Mark Doss, an attorney for IRAP, told the New York Times that a border agent directed him to the White House with his complaint: “Mr President, call Mr Trump.”

Thanu Yakupitiyage, a spokeswoman for the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), told the Guardian: “This is absolutely dehumanizing, I am livid, it’s outrageous. We are sending someone to JFK airport to speak to customs and border control about this, people are in a state of shock.”

Overseas, airport officials appeared to err on the side of blocking passengers from listed countries. It was reported, for example, that seven people, being escorted by officials from the United Nations refugee agency, were prevented from boarding a flight from Egypt to New York after authorities in Cairo contacted their counterparts at JFK.Air Canada had reportedly advised people from the seven countries concerned not to board flights to the US, whether or not they held a green card.

Melanie Nezer, vice-president of HIAS, a US organization that helps to resettle refugees who had passed through the difficult US vetting process, said 2,000 people scheduled to arrive next week were now stranded overseas.

Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, said she had heard of several people with Iranian passports who were barred from US-bound flights leaving Amsterdam and Frankfurt. A number of other passengers were removed by security personnel just before take-off from the European cities.

“The agents said specifically that they had word from the US that those passengers would not be allowed to travel,” Yegani said.

Yegani had also been passed details of a Sudanese woman, a Stanford University PhD student with a US green card, who flew into New York at 11pm on Friday and was detained and interrogated until about 5am on Saturday, when she was released.

“The checked her social media accounts, went through her phone, asked her about her politics, it was very intimidating,” Yegani said. “This really undermines core American values and the US constitution. I would not be surprised if the legal challenges to this end up at the supreme court.”

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist living in exile in the US, said Trump’s orders threatened to strip people from their families and homes.

“The Islamic Republic has built a wall around many exiled journalists like us,” she said. “We neither have the right to return to Iran, nor do we enjoy the privilege of seeing our parents.”

Alinejad said that the order now bars her from her son, a university student in the UK. “Trump has built a wall between me and my son. We are both in limbo. He cannot come and see me and nor can I go to the UK to visit him,” she said.

“If I were to go and visit him, I would be deprived of the right to come back to the United States. It would be the end of my life in the United States.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) will file its own lawsuit against the order on Monday, arguing that it violates the constitution’s guarantee for religion and due process.

Yakupitiyage, of the NYIC, said the order was a step toward a more “isolationist and cruel” United States. “We will be doing whatever we can with our legal partners to push back on this. It’s religious discrimination and this will not make America safer.”

She stressed that many refugees and managed to pass through the arduous, 18 to 24-month vetting system that was in place before the orders.

“Many have waited years,” she said.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login