Two Iraqi Muslim refugees were detained overnight on Friday at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York as President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries took effect.
Five other Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight from Cairo to New York yesterday on account of the ban.
Two US traditional allies -Germany and France – and the United Nations refugee agency and International Organization for Migration (IOM) expressed concern over the order as was Facebook (FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg who posted a status update slamming Trump’s action.
Zuckerberg in the emotional posting said: “My great grandparents came from Germany, Austria and Poland. Priscilla’s parents were refugees from China and Vietnam. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and we should be proud of that.”
Scores of Arab travelers in the Middle East and North Africa denounced the order which they called humiliating and discriminatory.
One of the Iraqis detained at Kennedy Airport, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years.
The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, was coming to the United States to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. contractor, and young son, his lawyers said.
They said both men were detained at the airport Friday night after arriving on separate flights.
The attorneys said they were not allowed to meet with their clients, and there were tense moments as they tried to reach them.
They have now approached a US court to reverse the Trump executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees.
Their lawyers yesterday filed a writ of habeas corpus early yesterday in the Eastern District of New York seeking to have their clients released.
Also filed by them was a motion for class certification which seeks to represent all refugees and immigrants who,according to them, are being unlawfully detained at ports of entry.
The ban order suspends entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days and has now created a legal limbo for individuals on the way to the United States and panic for families who were awaiting their arrival.
Seven countries -Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen- are specifically mentioned in the ban order.
It was unclear yesterday how many refugees and immigrants were being held nationwide in the aftermath of the executive order.
The six passengers who were barred yesterday from boarding EgyptAir Flight 985 at Cairo airport had valid immigration visas, sources said.
The five Iraqis had arrived in transit from Erbil and were being held at the airport until they could be re-boarded on flights back to Iraq, whereas the Yemeni passenger had arrived at the airport from elsewhere in Cairo, they added.
A report yesterday said green card holders and US permanent resident are not exempted from the ban order.
A UK resident, Hamaseh Tayari,was denied entry yesterday onto a Costa Rica-New York-Glasgow flight because of her Iranian passport.
Tayari, who had been holidaying in Costa Rica said: “This has really shocked me. We just discovered (what Trump did) at the airport when we went to check in.
“I want people to know that this is not just happening to refugees. I am a graduate and I have a PhD. It has happened to a person who is working and who pays tax.”
Customs and border patrol agents at many airports were unaware of the executive order on Friday evening, said Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, who works with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Yegani and her fellow lawyers worked through the night fielding calls from travelers with student and worker visas being denied entry into the United States and ordered on flights back to Muslim-majority countries on the list.
Green card holders were also being stopped and questioned for several hours. Officials also denied travelers with dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship from boarding planes in Canada that were headed the United States, she said.
“These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here,” Yegani said.
At a joint news conference in Paris with his German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said many of Trump’s decisions worried the two U.S. allies, including new immigration restrictions.
“This can only worry us, but there are many subjects that worry us,” Ayrault said, adding that he would soon invite his future American counterpart Rex Tillerson to Paris to explain Europe’s interests, values and vision of the world.
“Welcoming refugees who flee war and oppression is part of our duty,” Ayrault said.
Germany has taken in more than one million refugees and migrants, mainly from the Middle East, since 2015.
“The United States is a country where Christian traditions have an important meaning. Loving your neighbor is a major Christian value, and that includes helping people,” said Germany’s Gabriel, who was on his first trip abroad since his nomination as foreign minister.
“I think that is what unites us in the West, and I think that is what we want to make clear to the Americans.”
The United Nations refugee agency and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) asked Mr. Trump to continue offering asylum to people fleeing war and persecution, saying its resettlement program was vital.
“The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater and the U.S. resettlement program is one of the most important in the world,” the two Geneva-based agencies said in a joint statement.
IOM and UNHCR said that they remained committed to working with the U.S. administration towards a shared goal of ensuring “safe and secure resettlement and immigration programmes,” adding that refugees should “receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race.”
Some 25,000 refugees were resettled in the United States between October and year-end under UNHCR’s program for the most vulnerable, the agency said on Friday.
Mark Zuckerberg, in his status update yesterday on the ban, said: “We need to keep this country safe, but we should do that by focusing on people who actually pose a threat.
“Expanding the focus of law enforcement beyond people who are real threats would make all Americans less safe by diverting resources, while millions of undocumented folks who don’t pose a threat will live in fear of deportation.
“We should also keep our doors open to refugees and those who need help. That’s who we are. Had we turned away refugees a few decades ago, Priscilla’s family wouldn’t be here today.
“That said, I was glad to hear President Trump say he’s going to “work something out” for Dreamers – immigrants who were brought to this country at a young age by their parents.
“Right now, 750,000 Dreamers benefit from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows them to live and work legally in the US.
“I hope the President and his team keep these protections in place, and over the next few weeks I’ll be working with our team at FWD to find ways we can help.
“I’m also glad the President believes our country should continue to benefit from “people of great talent coming into the country.”
“These issues are personal for me even beyond my family. A few years ago, I taught a class at a local middle school where some of my best students were undocumented.
“They are our future too. We are a nation of immigrants, and we all benefit when the best and brightest from around the world can live, work and contribute here.
“I hope we find the courage and compassion to bring people together and make this world a better place for everyone.”