He said he’d flown from Erbil to Istanbul, Istanbul to New York — and that’s where the chaos began. Hameed Khalid Darweesh became one of at least 12 detainees stuck in limbo at Kennedy Airport due to President Donald Trump’s executive orders severely limiting and, in some cases, banning refugees from countries with majority Muslim populations that his administration says harbor terrorists.
Darweesh, who was held overnight, was an interpreter for U.S. forces in Iraq. He had arrived with his wife and children. They were allowed to enter the United States. He was detained.
Darweesh’s case shows both the arbitrariness and the unpreparedness at frontline airports, including JFK, where individuals who had boarded planes with valid visas got off those planes in a new reality. Others were taken off flights in other nations as airlines, unsure about the unfolding events sought to comply with the rushed directives. Meanwhile, a frantic White House tried to sort out the operating details of their sweeping action and how to communicate its implementation to enforcement agencies. It was a disturbing start.
Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Jerry Nadler spoke to reporters outside the terminal, with Velazquez calling it a “sad day” for America and Nadler referencing the mostly Jewish refugees turned away by America before the Holocaust. Both said their staffs were in contact with the Department of Homeland Security about the detainees in New York. They said they tried to see the detainees but were refused.
Then, Darweesh was allowed to exit into the New York cold. Velazquez said it was now “a glorious day for all of us.” A light winter jacket zipped halfway up his neck, enjoying his first cigarette in hours, Darweesh called America “the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world.” He said he was “surprised” at the crowd that had gathered to greet him. One onlooker yelled “Welcome to America!”
Describing his ordeal, Darweesh said his legal contact at the International Refugee Assistance Project had told him “just be patient” over the long night, telling him “do not worry. This is America.”
That faith was rewarded as he got into a car and left JFK a little after 1 P.M. After he did, crowds continued to gather to protest Trump’s orders in hope of welcoming the rest of the newcomers, still detained, to NYC.