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Nadler and Velazquez rush to the rescue of refugees at J.F.K.

Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler, left, and Nydia Velazquez, right, at J.F.K. Airport on Saturday with Iraqi refugee Hameed Khalid Darweesh after he was released by a federal judge’s order. Photo courtesy Office of Nydia Velazquez
Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler, left, and Nydia Velazquez, right, at J.F.K. Airport on Saturday with Iraqi refugee Hameed Khalid Darweesh after he was released by a federal judge’s order. Photo courtesy Office of Nydia Velazquez
Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler, left, and Nydia Velazquez, right, at J.F.K. Airport on Saturday with Iraqi refugee Hameed Khalid Darweesh after he was released. Photo courtesy Office of Nydia Velazquez

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez were among the first politicians to rush to the airport Saturday morning to deal with the fallout from President Donald Trump’s executive order barring refugees and people from certain Muslim countries from entry into the U.S.

After news broke that deplaning passengers were being detained, the two sped together to J.F.K. They helped secure the release of two Iraqi refugees, Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Alshawi.

Darweesh worked with American forces in Iraq as a translator. Alshawi had been granted a visa to join his wife and child in Houston.

Nadler said he and Velazquez mainly assisted lawyers in dealing with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers so they could get access to the two men.

“Because Nydia and I got their first, we were also giving guidance to congressmembers in other airports,” he added.

Trump’s order suspended all refugee immigration for 120 days, indefinitely prohibits Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., and initially banned anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering, including those with permanent resident, or green card, status. The administration altered the latter provision to allow green card holders to be vetted on a case-by-case basis.

Saturday evening, Brooklyn Federal District Judge Ann Donnelly granted the American Civil Liberties Union’s request to temporarily stop the detention of the two Iraqi men, after which they were released.

Donnelly’s ruling was a nationwide stay on Trump’s order, blocking the U.S. from deporting refugees and immigrants who have legal paperwork and visas. Sending them back would violate their rights to “due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution,” plus subject them to “substantial and irreparable injury,” Donnelly wrote.

The next day, in a massive outpouring of opposition and outrage, 10,000 people rallied in Battery Park against Trump’s “Muslim ban.”

As of Monday morning, 41 of the detainees had be released, two had been deported and there was one who still may be in custody, according to Camille Mackler, director of New York Immigration Coalition. 

The group of detained individuals at J.F.K. included 15 Iranian nationals, five Iraqi nationals, one Libyan national, one Saudi Arabian national, one Senegalese national, three Sudanese nationals, three Syrian nationals, eight Yemeni nationals and another 1o were undetermined, according to Mackler.

Monday morning, Trump downplayed the situation — and implicated an airline.

“Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning,” he tweeted. “Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage.”

Monday afternoon, Nadler and Velazquez joined House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer on the steps of the Supreme Court in D.C. to denounce Trump’s order.

Nadler blasted Trump’s action as “unconstitutional, discriminatory, morally reprehensible and dangerously stupid.”

He noted that his 10th Congressional District contains the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

“Those symbols of America’s proud tradition of welcoming people to our shores are a little beaten and battered today, thanks to Donald Trump,” he said.

Yet, he was encouraged by the quick turnout Saturday of hundreds of protesters “demanding justice” at J.F.K. and other airports.

“What we found was chaos and heartbreak,” Nadler said, recalling the scene. “Refugees, people with valid visas and even legal permanent residents, were prevented from entering the country, or even from speaking with their attorneys.

“They were people like Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi who put his life on the line for 10 years to work with American and Coalition forces as a translator,” Nadler said. “This hero was welcomed to the United States with a door slammed in his face, and a grueling ordeal at the airport.

“Customs and Border Protection agents,” Nadler continued, “many of whom sincerely tried to be helpful, were utterly confused about what they were required to do, and who should be admitted. This executive order is not only shameful, it is also poorly drafted and unclear.”

Added Velazquez, “This weekend, in airports and cities across the nation, the American people came together to send a resounding message to President Trump. We will not allow this to stand! We will stand up in the courts! We will oppose this in Congress. We will make our voices heard in our airports! Because this is America and we are better than this!”

While the courts have issued some positive rulings, such as Donnelly’s, Nadler said it’s not clear all C.B.P. agents and others are complying.

“We must fight to overturn this whole Muslim ban — and, let’s be honest, it is a Muslim ban,” he said. “It will actually make us less safe, as it hands ISIS a perfect example for its propaganda machine, and it alienates our Muslim allies in the war on terror.”

— With reporting by Bill Parry

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