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Protesters Descend on JFK as Immigration Officials Detain Refugees

Immigration officials told ACLU there was no reason to hold two travelers other than Trump's executive order

Protesters held signs that read, "No Ban No Wall" and "Refugees Welcome." (Photo: Getty)

Protests erupted outside of John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York on Saturday, as border agents detained refugees who landed after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travelers from seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

At least 11 were still in holding after one man, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an interpreter who worked for the U.S. government in Iraq, was released following 19 hours of detention.

"What I do for this country? They put the cuffs on," Darweesh said after his release, standing outside the airport, surrounded by lawyers and beginning to cry. "You know how many soldiers I touch by this hand?"

Protesters chanted, "Let them in," and "This is what America looks like." They held signs that read, "No Ban, No Wall," and "Refugees welcome." The crowd swelled quickly as reports of the detentions—which extended to green card holders returning from overseas—spread.

Immigration officials at JFK told the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that there was no reason to hold Darweesh and another visa-holder, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, other than Trump's executive order.

The memorandum bans refugees from Syria indefinitely and puts a 90-day block on those from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen.

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

According to Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), green card holders "were handcuffed, their social media was reviewed, and they were asked their views on Trump."

Trump's order hit nationwide. Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), told the New York Times, "We've gotten reports of people being detained all over the country. They're literally pouring in by the minute."

The Times reports:

There were numerous reports of students attending American universities who were blocked from returning to the United States from visits abroad. One student said in a Twitter post that he would be unable to study at Yale. Another who attends the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was refused permission to board a plane. A Sudanese student at Stanford University was blocked for hours from returning to California.

The ban has also reportedly barred Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi, who has been nominated for an Academy Award for his film The Salesman, from traveling to the U.S. to attend the Oscars ceremony next month.

Others had their trips cancelled before they could leave. A Syrian refugee family who had been living in a Turkish camp since November was scheduled to fly to Cleveland on Monday, but now find themselves in limbo as the order takes effect.

Danielle Drake, community relations manager for the resettlement group U.S. Together, noted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Trump signed the memorandum on Holocaust Remembrance Day, an occasion to honor the victims and survivors of the Nazi regime in Europe—including Jewish refugees who were rejected at the border.

"That this can happen on this day is disturbing on so many levels," she said. "All those times that people said 'never again,' well, we're doing it again. We're turning people away again."

One green card holder, who was returning from a family visit in Iran and is eligible for a U.S. citizenship in November, said to the Times, "How do I get back home now? What about my job? If I can't go back soon, I’ll lose everything."

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