March 1, 2021

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

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“These detentions appear to be targeting the Muslim community,” Cair national legal director Lena Masri told the Guardian. “We have particular concern for green card holders who are out of the country right now, about whether they are going to be allowed back in. This is clearly unconstitutional.”


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “US airports on frontline as Trump immigration ban causes chaos and controversy” was written by Joanna Walters and Edward Helmore in New York and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Istanbul, for theguardian.com on Saturday 28th January 2017 18.51 UTC

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 airports and elsewhere others were barred from boarding planes.

As confusion reigned, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security made a striking admission when she told Reuters people holding so-called 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.

The order, signed on Friday in Washington, temporarily banned refugees from around the world from entering the US, blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely and placed severe restrictions on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

A state department spokesman confirmed that travellers from the named countries who have dual nationality will not be able to enter the US for 90 days. Members of religious minorities from those countries, however, will be granted immigration priority.

Political reaction to the order ranged across the partisan divide. On Friday, Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said: “Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded, has been stomped upon.”

Republican House speaker Paul Ryan countered: “Our No 1 responsibility is to protect the homeland. I support the refugee resettlement program, but … President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”

As Trump spoke by phone to the leaders of Japan, France, Germany and Russia on Saturday, international reaction to the ban was largely negative.

British prime minister Theresa May, however, ducked a series of questions at a press conference with the Turkish prime minister, 24 hours after meeting Trump in Washington. Asked several times what she thought of Trump’s order, she finally replied: “The United States is responsible for the United States’ policy on refugees.”

The Iranian foreign ministry said in a statement the executive order was an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation”. Iran will “take appropriate consular, legal and political measures” in response, it said.

In New York City, two Iraqi refugees who arrived on separate flights were detained at John F Kennedy 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, according to a report in the New York Times.

Mark Doss, an attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), told the Times he asked border agents who he needed to talk to about the men and was told: “Mr President, call Mr Trump.”

An immigration organisation in New York City said it was dispatching an expert to the airport to try to establish how many people were being held in limbo as border agents began preventing Muslims in particular from entering the country.

Thanu Yakupitiyage, a spokeswoman for the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), told the Guardian: “This is absolutely dehumanising, 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.”

Trump’s refugee ban provokes criticism at home and abroad – video report

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the detention of the two Iraqi men. An ACLU statement said: “The lead plaintiffs have been detained by the US government and threatened with deportation even though they have valid visas to enter the United States.”

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said: “President Trump’s war on equality is already taking a terrible human toll. This ban cannot be allowed to continue.”

Darweesh was released. He spoke before around 100 protesters outside Terminal Four at JFK, who shouted: “No hate, No war, refugees are welcome here.”
Darweesh said he had been well treated during his brief detention. “They are good people,” he told the Guardian. “They are just doing their duty.”

One protester, Harriet Hirschorn, said: “Pretty much everything that’s happened this week has been a nightmare. I didn’t expect Trump to make good on so many nasty promises. Even Trump supports have said to me they’re getting buyers remorse.”

Overseas and in the US, airport officials appeared to err on the side of caution,. It was reported, for example, that seven migrants, escorted by officials from the United Nations refugee agency, were prevented from boarding a flight to New York from Egypt after authorities at Cairo airport contacted their counterparts at JFK.

Ali Abdi, an Iranian with permanent residency in the US, wrote on Facebook that he was in limbo in Dubai, where his visa would soon run out. He was unable to go to Iran because he has been outspoken about human rights violations there, he wrote, and was now unable to return to the US.

“I am an Iranian PhD student of anthropology in the US,” Abdi wrote. “I left New York on 22 January, two days after [Trump] was sworn in. Now in Dubai, waiting for the issuance of my visa to enter Afghanistan to carry out ethnographic research.”

He added: “The language of the racist executive order [Trump] just signed is ambiguous, but it is likely to prevent permanent residents like me from returning to the country where I am a student, where I have to defend my thesis.

“This is just one story among thousands.”

Yakupitiyage of the NYIC said: “This executive order makes the US isolationist and cruel. 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.”

It was unclear exactly how many people were being barred from entering the US. Yakupitiyage said she had also heard of a case at Atlanta airport, in Georgia. An Iraqi journalist living in the US, Mohammed al-Rawi, posted on Facebook that his father had been turned away from a flight in Qatar bound for Los Angeles.

It was reported that Air Canada had advised people from the seven countries concerned not to board flights to the US, whether or not they held a green card.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) will file its own lawsuit against the order on Monday, arguing that it violates the US constitution.

“These detentions appear to be targeting the Muslim community,” Cair national legal director Lena Masri told the Guardian. “We have particular concern for green card holders who are out of the country right now, about whether they are going to be allowed back in. This is clearly unconstitutional.”

Republican support for Trump’s action is not without exception. Former vice-president Dick Cheney, a staunch conservative, rejected such a ban in December.

Speaking on a radio show, he said: “I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say ‘no more Muslims’, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in.

“I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.”

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