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Fate Of Some Detained Immigrants At US Airports Remains Unclear

Above Photo: Hundreds of protesters gathered in Dallas-Fort Worth airport’s terminal D for international arrivals Saturday, January 28, to protest President Trump’s executive order barring foreign travelers and refugees from entering the country and to pressure Customs and Border Patrol agents to release nine people who were detained there Saturday night. Similar protests erupted at major international airports across the country throughout the weekend. (Photo: Garrett Graham)

…After Temporary Injunction

“It’s not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared,” President Trump told reporters in the Oval Office over the weekend about his executive order barring foreign citizens, including refugees, from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US while giving Christians from those countries preferential treatment. “You see it at the airports, you see it all over. It’s working out very nicely.”

But with travel for many disrupted over the weekend — as documented permanent US residents holding authorized green cards and others holding approved visas were barred from boarding flights abroad, and with between 100 to 200 travelers finding themselves detained for hours at US airports — the exact opposite was true.

Grassroots groups mobilized quickly to organize large, passionate protests at more than 50 locations across the country, including major international airports and other public spaces. Protesters rode a collective emotional rollercoaster as they followed the developments of major legal challenges over the president’s Friday order, which suspended entry of all refugees into the US for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocked entry for 90 days for all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

On Saturday night, US District Judge Ann Donnelly issued a temporary nationwide injunction to block the deportation of immigrants and refugees held at US airports. However, while many detainees have since been released, the ruling did not prompt release for all airport detainees. A national coalition of attorneys is still working to free many still detained and newly detained immigrants whose fate remains in legal limbo. While the injunction prevents the government from deporting travelers entangled by the executive order, the ruling fell short of granting them entrance to the US. A broader ruling on the constitutionality of President Trump’s order is still expected.

The scene at the international Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport was similar to what took place at airports across the nation Saturday and Sunday as protesters gathered by the hundreds to press for the release of detained travelers, including green card holders.

Nine travelers who had been detained overnight on Saturday at DFW were released Sunday, but at least one new arrival landing into DFW Sunday was still being held, according to attorneys.

Tareq Alolabi, who is originally from Syria, came to the US in 2013 to earn his master’s degree from Southern Methodist University (SMU), and was one of the many relatives of detainees at DFW airport who had been waiting to reunite with his family Saturday. Alolabi arrived at DFW airport around 8 am to greet his parents before learning President Trump’s order had affected them. Alolabi spoke to Truthout around midnight on Saturday, saying, “I’m just running on coffee, Red Bull and the power of the people.”

Alolabi’s parents, Ahmed Alolabi, 55, and Basima Labbad, 54, are also originally from Syria, but moved to Saudi Arabia before the Syrian civil war. They flew in to DFW from Saudi Arabia with a stop in Dubai.

“It was just a normal flight…. I woke up, got in the car, came here. They told [me] they would be late. Usually they’re late because of extra precautions. [CBP agents] always really search them and put them in a room for an hour, 30 minutes to make sure their visa is correct,” Alolabi told Truthout. “Since we’re Syrians, we understand that. But today there was something wrong. After two hours of waiting, my mom just texted me and told me, ‘I don’t think we’re going to make it. They want us to leave on the next flight.’ Then I was like, ‘What? What happened?’ I heard about the executive order, but I never thought in my head that we would be affected.”

Alolabi says he then called representatives of the DFW chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and local TV stations. “We started from there. We were just talking about my family, just my mom and dad … and suddenly there was another family, and another,” Alolabi said. “Another channel came. Suddenly there’s 20 people, 30 people, 100. Suddenly the whole thing is packed, and I was really surprised. This is one of the most intense things that has happened in my life. Seeing all of these people, not only for my family, but for the other people. That means so much to me. … These people just came here to support my family and the other families that are being held by a stupid act that says one day you can see your family and the next you can’t.”

Alolabi was reunited with his parents early Sunday morning.

During a national press call Sunday, refugee and immigrant advocates and attorneys, including those who filed the lawsuit for emergency relief on behalf of two Iraqi refugees detained in New York who had valid entry permits, accused the government of violating the ruling and highlighted numerous examples of US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) personnel’s failure to comply with Judge Donnelly’s nationwide ruling, including not granting detained travelers access to attorneys.

Becca Heller, who is director and cofounder of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) cited the case of Vahideh Rasekhi, an Iranian linguist, doctoral candidate and former Fulbright scholar who was forced onto a flight bound for Ukraine even after the federal ruling was issued. The plane was turned around on the tarmac after Rasekhi received assistance from volunteer lawyers.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed additional legal motions regarding the incidents of noncompliance in New York, writing in a request for clarification that they have “received repeated reports of individual members subject to the order who have been placed on planes, possibly deported.”

“There’s a lot more work to be done beyond the stay of deportation,” Heller said. “We need to be talking about what conditions are people being detained [in] and why are they not being released. In addition to issues of rogue CBP agents not following orders, we heard over a dozen instances of attempts to coerce people to surrender their green card and take ‘voluntary departure.’ The government must provide the names of those being detained as their legal rights are being egregiously violated and need to be fought [for].”

Alia Salem, who is executive director for the DFW chapter of CAIR, and immigration attorneys told Truthout that the DFW detainees were among those coerced into signing a waiver to surrender their visa under threat of deportation.

Heller and other attorneys emphasized chaos and turmoil in the detention process at different airports around the country.

“It’s really clear that there is no method to this madness, and that the fate of all these people is really up to the whim of how bold is the Customs and Border Patrol port director for that airport willing to be,” Heller said during the call. “Or it begs the question, are there directives coming from DC targeting certain airports but not others?”

The attorneys called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide clear guidance and information to attorneys and CBP personnel. In a statement Sunday morning, the agency said that its officers would “continue to enforce all of President Trump’s executive orders,” and that “prohibited travel will remain prohibited,” while also stating that it “will comply with judicial orders.”

Three additional rulings came down over the weekend blocking different aspects of President Trump’s executive order, including one on Saturday out of a federal district court in Virginia, which specified that government officials must grant legal access “to all legal permanent residents being detained at Dulles International Airport.” Lawyers there were reportedly considering seeking a contempt of court order against CBP after they continued to be denied access to detainees.

As the rulings came down over the weekend, the Trump administration walked back a key part of the executive order, saying Sunday that green card holders from the affected countries would not be prevented from returning to the US though border agents still have “discretionary authority” to detain “suspicious” travelers from the countries, adding to widespread confusion over how the executive order will be enforced in the coming days. (Previously, DHS indicated that legal permanent residents from the seven countries would need a case-by-case waiver to return.)

Additionally, according to CNN, White House policy director Stephen Miller said Saturday that the Trump administration is discussing potentially asking foreign travelers to the US to disclose the social media sites they visit, their browser history and their cell phone contacts.

“As a person, as an American, as a Muslim, I am absolutely horrified because the president is absolutely targeting Muslims. There is preference being given to people from those countries who are not Muslim. So, if anyone is under any illusions that this isn’t a Muslim ban they are mistaken 100 percent,” Salem of DFW CAIR told Truthout Saturday. “The worst part is to see the desperation in the families’ eyes. These are people who are waiting for their family members, their elderly parents, who are scared.”

The detentions struck a deep nerve within the Texas Muslim community, especially after a recent arson at a mosque in Victoria, Texas, only hours after President Trump’s order was put into effect. On top of that, state Rep. Kyle Biedermann recently sent a letter to mosque leaders in an effort to test them about their beliefs just ahead of Texas Muslim Capitol Day.

“We received a loyalty test from a Texas Congressman two days ago, Kyle Biedermann, and that was already taking us back to a really dark place in history,” said Omar Suleiman, who is resident scholar at the Valley Ranch Islamic Center and an adjunct instructor at SMU. “This is not the first time we’ve had loyalty tests or refugee bans or religious tests. We’ve been through this before and we sorted it out. I think that what this was, was a referendum to the country and we’re hearing a resounding ‘No’ from people all over this country, that this is not the direction we want this country to go in.”


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