NEW YORK ― Iraqi and Afghan refugees who helped U.S. war efforts were among those detained at airports Friday night after President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting Muslims and refugees.
Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, Iraqis with ties to U.S. operations overseas, were detained late Friday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Darweesh had worked for the U.S. government for 10 years, including as an interpreter. Darweesh’s wife and children were let through, but Darweesh was not, Brandon Friedman, a former colleague of Darweesh’s, told The Huffington Post.
Darweesh was released Saturday afternoon. In a press conference afterward, he said he’d been held since 6 p.m. Friday in several rooms, and was questioned for many hours.
But despite his ill treatment, Darweesh offered praise for the U.S., calling it “the greatest country in the world.”
Alshawi is a refugee who was rejoining his wife and child in America. His wife, who had worked for a U.S. government contractor, came to the U.S. a few years ago, The Washington Post reported.
Alshawi was released Saturday night, after a federal judge halted parts of Trump’s executive order.
Mark Doss, an attorney with the International Refugee Assistance Project who is representing Darweesh and Alshawi, said he and his team were unable to meet with their clients through the night on Friday.
“We’ve been at JFK all night and none of us have been able to speak with our clients. As far as we know, they are still detained, and we have been unable to actually meet with them in person,” Doss told CNN Saturday before Darweesh’s release. “To be unlawfully detained here at the airport is really just disgraceful.”
“We’re fighting very hard to make sure they’re not deported to their countries where they can be killed,” he added.
Things were also chaotic on the West Coast. An Afghan interpreter was detained at San Francisco International Airport on Friday while his wife and children were allowed through, said Matt Zeller, founder of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that helps Afghan and Iraqi combat interpreters with special immigrant visas resettle safely in the United States.
Protesters gathered around the country on Saturday in support of the detainees.
U.S. veterans of the Iraq War criticized their government’s actions on Saturday as well.
“The idea that we could be detaining Iraqi interpreters who put their lives on the line to help troops like myself in Iraq is disgraceful,” Jon Soltz, a veteran and the chairman of VoteVets, said in a statement. “Not only does this not do anything to protect America, but it now sends the message that even if you put your life on the line to help America, if you are Muslim we don’t want you here.”
The executive order, which Trump signed Friday afternoon, bans Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S. indefinitely, shuts down the entire refugee program for 120 days, and bars all immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country for at least 90 days.
U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York halted parts of the executive order Saturday after the American Civil Liberties Union, immigrants’ rights groups and refugee relief organizations filed a lawsuit against Trump and the U.S. government. A federal judge in Virginia and a district judge in Seattle came to similar decisions later that night.