Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi man who put his life on the line as an interpreter for the U.S. military, praised America as the “land of freedom” after being released from airport detention.
Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and visas had resulted in the detainment on American soil of Darweesh, 53, and another Iraqi man, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi.
Both men – who don’t know each other – were detained when they arrived at Kennedy airport in New York on January 27, according to the New York Times. One of them, Darweesh, has now been released, but it’s not clear what’s happening with Alshawi’s situation. They are not alone either; it’s believed other refugees were detained at airports also after Trump put pen to executive order paper.
A federal judge granted an emergency stay of Trump’s executive order on the evening of January 28. According to ABC News, “The ruling does not appear to overturn administration policy, but does appear to apply to all of those people currently detained at airports across the country who were facing imminent deportation.”
According to CNN, Darweesh was released due to exemptions in Trump’s order “that allow the State and Homeland Security departments to admit individuals into the US on a case-by-case base for certain reasons, including when the person is already in transit and it would cause undue hardship and would not pose a threat to the security of the US.”
ABC News reported that the men are not technically refugees under Trump’s executive order.
“This is the soul of America. This is what pushed me to leave my country and come here, Darweesh said upon release, surrounded by people who worked to free him. “America is the land of freedom. The land of the right. I am very thankful.”
He added, “America is the greatest nation. The greatest people in the world.” Of Trump, he said, “I like him, but I don’t know. This is a policy, I don’t know.” He said he didn’t understand why he was treated like he did something wrong.
The detainment sparked immediate outrage because Darweesh, in particular, had helped the U.S. military. Brandon Friedman, former deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, wrote on Twitter: “Guy literally spent years keeping U.S. soldiers alive in combat in Iraq. He was one of the first to sign up in 2003. He is fearless.”
Both men are married fathers and their families are already in the United States. In the case of Darweesh, the lawsuit describes a tense and dramatic scene as the former U.S. military interpreter arrived at a New York airport with his family, only to be separated from them. The rest of the family managed to leave the airport. Alshawi is an accountant whose wife worked for a U.S. contractor; members of his family were already murdered by insurgents.
A lawsuit filed on their behalf contends that Darweesh and Alshawi will be in “grave danger” if they are forced to return to Iraq.
They had the misfortune of being in the air and not yet on American soil when the executive order was signed by Trump. Trump’s order temporarily bans immigration from Iraq and a series of other Muslim-majority countries and gives entrance priority to those from minority religions, such as Christian.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lawyers Representing the Men Took Legal Action Seeking Their Immediate Freedom
Lawyers for the men immediately filed a writ of habeus corpus, seeking their release, reported The New York Times.
You can read the lawsuit here:
The Times reported that the men’s lawyers were initially blocked from meeting with them as one Customs and Border patrol agent informed them, “Call Mr. Trump” when they asked whom to talk to about getting access.
The lawyers filed the legal action in the middle of the night in federal court, according to The Washington Post.
The lawyers are also seeking to represent other affected refugees in a class action lawsuit, and they are contending that Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional, The Post reported.
The lawsuit was filed by a series of lawyers, including those working for The Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, International Refugee Assistance Project, the National Immigration Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and Kilpatrick Townsend
& Stockton LLP.
The lawsuit cites the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, alleging that the detainees were not given due process rights as required under it. The suit contends the man were denied their due process rights to “apply for asylum” and that Trump’s executive order violates the equal protection clause within it. That Amendment reads:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The lawsuit also mentions the 14th Amendment, which reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The 14th Amendment granted rights to African-American slaves after the Civil War, according to History.com.
2. Darweesh Worked for the United States Government as a Translator & Engineer
The lawsuit says that Darweesh is an Iraqi husband and father of three. He is 53-years-old, and his children are ages 20, 15, and 7, according to the suit.
The lawsuit says that Darweesh was previously targeted while in Iraq for his service to the United States military.
The lawsuit says that Darweesh worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army 101st Airporne in Baghdad and Mosul in 2003 and 2004; worked as an interpreter for the 91st Engineering Unit at the Baghdad Airport in 2004; worked as a Project Engineer for the U.S. Government Projects Contracting Office Oil Sector of North Iraq in 2005 and 2006; and worked for the U.S. government’s Vessar contractors from 2006 to 2011.
In one incident, the lawsuit contends, while working at the Baghdad Airport, the Baghdad police – known to be affiliated with anti-American militias – entered Darweesh’s home and said they were looking for a terrorist. When two of his co-workers were then killed, Darweesh feared for his safety and left Baghdad for Kirkuk, the lawsuit contends. On another occasion, men in a BMW whom Darweesh believes were terrorists twice asked local shopkeepers where he lived. Fearing again for his safety, he fled Kirkuk to Erbil. He then decided to apply for a visa to come to the United States.
The visa that Darweesh obtained requires proof that he “provided faithful and valuable service to the United States” and “has experienced or is experiencing a serious threat” or consequence of that service. It took over two years for the visa for Darweesh to be processed, the lawsuit says, and the vetting included an in-person interview and medical as well as security checks.
Darweesh and his family received five immigrant visas and left Iraq together. They arrived in New York via Istanbul at 6 p.m. on January 27, 2017. Of the family, only Darweesh was detained. The agents wanted to further question Darweesh’s wife, but the family’s lawyer was present and, at the lawyer’s advice, the rest of the family left the airport. It’s not clear why Darweesh was detained but the rest of his family was not.
According to the lawsuit, Darweesh landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on the evening of January 27, 2017 after being granted a Special Immigrant Visa (“SIV”) on January 20, 2017 “as a result of his service to the United States as an interpreter, engineer and contractor.”
Darweesh is a citizen of Iraq; “As an interpreter, electrical engineer and contractor, Mr. Darweesh performed valuable work on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq from roughly 2003 to 2013,” the lawsuit says.
3. Members of Alshawi’s Family Were Murdered by Insurgents in Iraq
The lawsuit says that Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi is also an Iraqi husband and father. His family is already in the United States.
According to the lawsuit, Alshawi was granted a Follow to Join Visa on January 11, 2017 to rejoin his wife and son, who were granted refugee status due to their family’s association with the United States military.
Alshawi’s wife had worked for a U.S. contractor, the Independent reported.
The lawsuit says that Alshawi’s wife and son were resettled in Houston, Texas.
Alshawi graduated with an accounting degree in 2006 from Baghdad University. Alshawi and his wife Duniyya Alshawi have been married since 2008.
Alshawi’s wife worked for Falcon Security Group, a U.S. contractor, from 2006 to 2007 as an accountant, the lawsuit says. Her brother worked for the contractor as an accountant as well.
According to the lawsuit, “Mr. Alshawi heard through neighbors in the family’s community in Baghdad that, due to the family’s association with the U.S. military, insurgents thought that they were collaborators.”
The lawsuit says, “In 2010, insurgents attempted to kidnap Ms. Alshawi’s brother. A month later, an IED placed on Mr. Alshawi’s sister-in-law’s car detonated, killing her husband and severely injuring her and her daughter. Fearing for their safety, Mr. Alshawi and his wife moved from Baghdad to Erbil, Iraq.”
Alshawi’s wife and son came to the U.S. first, and he attempted to immigrate through Stockholm. He was blocked from entering the United States when his airplane arrived at 8:22 p.m. on January 27 at the gate at Kennedy airport.
4. Refugees From Seven Predominantly Muslim Countries Can’t Come to the United States
The order stops immigration to the United States for 90 days from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It’s officially called, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”
Refugees from Syria are permanently blocked from entering the U.S. under the order, which reads, “that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States.” All refugees are barred from coming to the U.S. for 120 days while the government reviews its vetting process, and the number of refugees admitted in 2017 is capped at 50,000.
Both Iraqi men detained had gone through security checks already. “After conducting standard procedures of administrative processing and security checks, the federal government has deemed both Petitioners not to pose threats to the United States,” the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit says the executive order subjects Muslims to disparate treatment and is thus unconstitutional.
5. At Least 11 Other Refugees Were Detained at Airports
Major American news organizations reported that it wasn’t clear how many refugees were detained at airports after Trump’s order was signed.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, of New York, wrote on Twitter that he was working to help 11 other refugees detained.
Seven other people – from Iraq and Yemen – were detained at the Cairo airport, according to ABC News.
ABC News reported that a Syrian woman, Sahar Alghnimi, was detained in Chicago, where she had arrived to see her mother, who was being treated for cancer. She was sent back to Saudi Arabia, reported ABC.
Daily Variety reported that the executive order may prevent Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi from attending the 2017 Academy Awards; he “wrote and directed the 2017 Oscar-nominated foreign language film ‘The Salesman,'” Variety reported.
Other accounts were coming in on social media.
The Washington Post reported that a refugee family might be detained at San Francisco airport too.
A Stanford professor said that he was affected by the executive order:
The lawsuit alleges, “Petitioners’ continued unlawful detention is part of a widespread pattern applied to many refugees and arriving aliens detained after the issuance of the January 27, 2017 executive order.”
The lawyers are alleging violations of the due process clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments. The lawsuit says, “Under United States law as well as human rights conventions, the United States may not return…a noncitizen to a country where she may face torture or persecution.”