President Trump’s executive order barring refugees and migrants from predominantly Muslim countries from entry into the United States rippled across the world on Saturday, causing widespread confusion, triggering outrage among immigrant advocates and leading to the detention at U.S. airports of people flying into the country.
In addition to blocking all entries from seven countries, including business people, students and others, the ban is also being applied to U.S. legal residents from those nations — so-called green card holders — who were traveling abroad at the time the order was signed, federal officials said Saturday.
Those familiar with the order, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they said its rollout had been chaotic, said green card holders currently in the United States will not be affected. They noted that the Department of Homeland Security is allowed to grant waivers to those individuals and others deemed to not pose a threat to national security.
“If you’ve been living in the United States for 15 years and you own a business and your family is here, will you be granted a waiver? I’m assuming yes, but we are working that out,’’ said one official, who could not be more specific because details of the possible waivers remained cloudy, as did many other details of how the ban will be enforced.
But officials made clear that the federal officers detaining refugees and migrants holding valid U.S. visas and restricting them from entering the country were following orders handed down by top DHS officials. Those orders, the officials said, reflect the desires of Trump’s White House.
The president’s order, signed Friday, suspends admission to the United States of all refugees for 120 days and bars for 90 days the entry of any citizens from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. Trump said that the goal is to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists” and that priority for admission would be given to Christians.
The executive action has caused “complete chaos” and torn apart families, said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “It’s causing a negative and destructive impact on the Arab-American community,” Ayoub said.
The White House on Saturday rushed to explain and defend its action, saying it strengthens national security and denying that it targeted Muslims. “The notion that this is a Muslim ban is ludicrous,” one senior administration official said. A second official noted that many majority-Muslim countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey, were excluded from the measure.
And House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who frequently clashed with Trump during the presidential campaign, strongly backed the president’s executive order. “This is not a religious test and it is not a ban on people of any religion,’’ he said. “This order does not affect the vast majority of Muslims in the world. It does not affect a large number of nations that are Muslim-majority.’’
Lawyers for two Iraqi men detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of whom served the U.S. military mission in Iraq, filed a middle-of-the-night lawsuit in federal court challenging Trump’s order as unconstitutional and seeking the release of their clients. They also are seeking class certification so they may represent all refugees and visa-holders who are being held at U.S. ports of entry.
One of the men, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released Saturday afternoon without explanation from federal officials, according to his lawyer, Mark Doss. “We are very grateful that Mr. Darweesh has been released,” Doss told reporters outside JFK International Airport in an interview broadcast on CNN. But 11 others are still being detained at JFK, he said, and “people will stay here until they are released.”
While immigration advocates said at least one refugee family had been detained at San Francisco International Airport, there was no immediate count of how many refugees were being held at airports nationwide. Advocates said that people have not only been held at the border but that ticketed passengers have been barred from boarding U.S.-bound aircraft overseas, and they confirmed that green-card holders who left the U.S. have been unable to return.
Cairo airport officials say seven U.S.-bound migrants — six from Iraq and one from Yemen — were prevented Saturday from boarding an EgyptAir flight to JFK airport, according to the Associated Press.
As outrage mounted, other advocates promised further legal challenges. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) denounced the order and said it would file a lawsuit next week challenging it as unconstitutional.
“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” Lena F. Masri, CAIR’s national litigation director, said in a statement. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”
Protestors rally during a protest against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. President Trump singed the controversial executive order that halted refugees and residents from…
Both Iraqi men detained at JFK airport held valid U.S. visas and had been receiving pro-bono legal assistance for several months from the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project. Betsy Fisher, the organization’s policy director, said the men were in the air on separate flights when Trump signed the temporary refugee ban Friday. She called their detention “our worst-case scenario.”
“In the coming weeks we will be advocating to show why this policy is bad for U.S. national security, why it goes against our humanitarian responsibilities, and why it is fundamentally un-American,” Fisher said. “If there is one fundamentally American value, then it is welcoming those who are fleeing persecution. At our best, this is what we can do.”
The International Refugee Assistance Project was among several prominent immigration-rights organizations that filed the lawsuit in New York, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center.
One of the Iraqi men detained at JFK is Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, 33, who holds a visa that allowed him to join his wife and young child in Texas. His wife had worked for a U.S. government contractor and came to the United States as a refugee in 2014.
Darweesh, 53, had worked as a contractor for the U.S. government in Iraq for about a decade, including as an interpreter for the Army. He and his wife and three children had spent more than two years securing a special immigrant visa, granted to Iraqis who assisted U.S. military forces.
The Darweesh family landed in New York at approximately 6 p.m. Friday , and Hameed Darweesh was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He is at risk of being returned to a country where he faces enormous personal danger due to his aid to the U.S. government, the complaint says.
Darweesh told reporters outside the airport on Saturday that he was thankful so many people came to his aid, leaving their families to help secure his release.
“This is the humanity, this is the soul of America. This is what pushed me to move, to leave my country and come here,” Darweesh said. “America is the land of freedom, the land of freedom, the land of the right. ... America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world.”
Brandon Friedman worked with Darweesh in 2003, when he was an infantry officer with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He said Darweesh, who was among the first Iraqis to sign up to serve the U.S. military, was “fearless” and saved countless U.S. lives.
“This is a guy who has done a lot more for this country than most people who were born here,” Friedman said. He said he hopes Trump’s executive order is rescinded quickly: “This is putting U.S. troops in danger because it is withdrawing the incentive that folks like Hameed have to work with us. And we depend on them to a great extent.”
The detention of a man who served the U.S. military was particularly objectionable to Matt Zeller, founder of No One Left Behind, which aims to help Iraqi and Afghan people who worked for the U.S. military secure special immigrant visas.
He said America is breaking its promise to men and women who served the U.S. military at great personal risk to themselves — which is not only wrong, he said, but also undermines trust in the United States and endangers the lives of any future service member sent overseas.
“This is going to get future Americans killed in future wars. It comes down to that,” he said. “We’re never going to live down this shame if we let this go on.”
Marielena Hincapie, executive director for the National Immigration Law Center, said immigration advocates first learned of immigrants being detained Friday evening after a report from a family detained in San Francisco. The advocates attempted to reach U.S. Customs and Border Protection but were unsuccessful.
“We were trying to find out if it was lack of communication or what was the plan?” she said in an interview Saturday morning.
The lawyers for those detained at JFK said they were told officials at the airport couldn’t help them when they began to seek their clients’ release.
“Who is the person to talk to?” the attorneys asked, according to the court complaint. The CBP agents responded: “Mr. President. Call Mr. Trump.”