Jan 28, 2017 by

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

A woman greets her mother after she arrived from Dubai on Emirates flight 203 at John F Kennedy airport in Queens, New York.
A woman greets her mother after she arrived from Dubai on Emirates flight 203 at John F Kennedy airport in Queens, New York. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Donald Trump’s executive order to close America’s borders to travellers from some Muslim-majority countries caused chaos on Saturday, as multiple 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. By evening in New York, hundreds of protesters had massed at Kennedy airport, and demonstrators gathered at at least 10 other major airports, including Dulles, LAX, San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia.

As confusion reigned at airports, universities and businesses across the US, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that people with green cards, making them legal permanent US residents, were included in the ban.

Trump’s executive order, signed on Friday, temporarily banned refugees from around the world, blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely and halted entry for 90 days for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

At the White House on Saturday, Trump expressed no doubt about his orders, saying: “It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared. It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”

Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Photograph: Craig Ruttle/AP

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 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.”


New York governor Andrew Cuomo ordered state transit officials and state attorneys to “explore all legal options to assist anyone detained at New York airports, and ensure that their rights are protected”. By 7pm local time, thousands of people had gathered at Kennedy airport, chanting “let them in”, and taxi drivers had staged a stoppage there in solidarity.

“I never thought I’d see the day when refugees, who have fled war-torn countries in search of a better life, would be turned away at our doorstep,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We are a nation of bridges, not walls, and a great many of us still believe in the words ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.’”

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.

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