Neither Here nor There

Trump Ban Puts Refugees, Immigrants on Way to U.S. in Legal Limbo

Refugees who were on flights to the U.S. when Trump signed the immigration order arrested upon arrival; immigrants with visas barred from boarding planes in Cairo.

Motaz Alafandi of Syria lives in Dallas while seeking asylum with his wife and three youngest children, ages 14, 11 and 5.shows a photo he keeps on his smart phone of his daughter Yara, 18, who lives in Montreal, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017.
Tony Gutierrez/AP

Hours after President Donald Trump signed a ban on refugees, individuals with refugee status were detained upon arriving in the United States.

The executive order, which also barred travelers from seven Muslim nations – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – put would-be immigrants with visas in legal limbo.    

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According to The New York Times, lawyers representing two Iraqi refugees arrested at JFK Airport in New York on Friday night filed legal action seeking the release of their clients. They also reportedly filed a motion for class certification, seeking to represent all refugees and immigrants detained at ports of entry as result of Trump's executive order. 

A rally and prayer service held in New York in support of Muslims and immigrants, Jan. 27, 2017.
Mary Altaffer, AP

According to the report, one of the Iraqis detained at JFK, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for a decade. The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, came to the U.S. to join his wife, who had worked for a U.S. employer, and young son. 

A Reuters witness said that one of the two Iraqi refugees was later admitted into the U.S. 

The attorneys were cited as saying they were initially barred from meeting with their clients. 

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“These are people with valid visas and legitimate refugee claims who have already been determined by the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to be admissible and to be allowed to enter the U.S. and now are being unlawfully detained,” one of the lawyers, Mark Doss told The New York Times. Doss is the supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project.

It wasn't immediately clear how many refugees and immigrants were detained in the U.S. due to the ban.

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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, said Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston, who works with the American Immigration Lawyers Association. 

"These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here," Yegani said. 

Those with visas from Muslim-majority countries have gone through background checks with U.S. authorities, Yegani noted. 

"Just because Trump signed something at 6 p.m. yesterday, things are coming to a crashing halt," she said. "It's scary." 

A Department of Homeland security spokeswoman said on Saturday that legal permanent U.S. residents, holders of so-called green cards, are included in Trump's executive action.

"It will bar green card holders," Gillian Christensen, acting Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, said in an email. 

Meanwhile, Cairo airport officials said seven U.S.-bound migrants — six from Iraq and one from Yemen — have been prevented from boarding an EgyptAir flight to JFK.

The officials said the action Saturday by the airport was the first since Trump's ban took effect. 

The officials said the seven migrants, escorted by officials from the UN refugee agency, were stopped from boarding the plane after authorities at Cairo airport contacted their counterparts in JFK airport.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Iraqis who helped U.S. soldiers working as translators and informants are also finding themselves affected by the ban. Though programs were set up in wake of the Iraq war to offer these individuals asylum in the U.S., the Trump administration's executive order has left them with little hope of leaving Iraq where they still face threats for their collaboration with the U.S. Army.

As part of a larger policy of restricting the number of refugees entering the U.S., Trump also shut down a program in recent days originally meant to help Jewish migrants from the Soviet Union.

The program, in coordination with Austria, was allowing minorities and dissdents from Iran to enter Europe to be interviewed by officials and be considered for resettlement in the U.S. In light of Trump's policy, Austria recently rejected the entry of 300 non-Muslims seeking to benefit from the program.