A growing crowd of protesters are rallying at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Saturday to demand the release of a dozen travelers detained there despite holding valid visas, as President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning citizens of seven nations with Muslim majorities from entering the United States took immediate effect.
The pressure appears to have had some limited effect, leading to the release of one of the detainees, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi refugee who was forced to flee his country after working for the U.S. military there. He was released after more than 18 hours in detention, during which he was separated from his wife and children. His release was due, in part, to the intervention of two Democrats who represent New York in Congress, Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Rep. Jerry Nadler.
Outside the international arrival terminal, Darweesh gave an emotional statement to reporters and protesters.
A second Iraqi, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, who had also cleared an arduous vetting process to obtain refugee status and was en route to be reunited with his wife in Texas, remained in custody.
Organizers of the protest called for more demonstrators to join them outside Terminal 4 as they continue to press for the release of all of those detained inside.
Among the protesters was Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, who pointed out on Friday night that Trump had signed the order banning refugees fleeing war on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Trump’s order also bars legal permanent residents of the U.S. from returning home if they are now abroad, even though they already went through intense vetting procedures to get their green cards.
According to Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, border agents appeared unsure how to enforce the new regulations, detaining green-card holders in handcuffs and even questioning them on their views on Trump and social media posts.