Detained Travelers Released From DFW Airport And Reunited With Families | KERA News

Detained Travelers Released From DFW Airport And Reunited With Families

Jan 29, 2017

Officials say nine people were released Sunday after they were detained overnight at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in the wake of President Donald Trump's travel ban barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations from entry into the U.S.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' office said Sunday that all nine were in the process of being released. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also notified airport officials of the release, the Associated Press reports.

Texas representatives for the Council on American-Islamic Relations say the majority of those detained are Iranian.

About 800 people gathered at the airport Sunday to protest the detention. It was the second day of protests at the airport following Trump's executive order Friday.

Other protests were held elsewhere in Texas on Sunday, including large gatherings in Houston and at the Austin airport.

Following emotional North Texas reunions, Rawlings addressed reporters. The mayor said he was honored to witness the scene.

A second day of protests, detainees

After a late night of protesting Saturday, hundreds of supporters returned to D/FW International Sunday to wait for the release of the detainees — nine held overnight and five others that arrived in Dallas Sunday.

Around 1:20 a.m. early Sunday, Alia Salem of the D-FW chapter of CAIR told the airport crowd that remaining detainees wouldn't be released Saturday night and urged them to return later in the morning, KERA's Stella M. Chavez reports.

Some protesters returned as early as 9 a.m. Sunday. Some with family members detained had been at the airport since 9 a.m. Saturday. 

Attorneys working pro bono gathered at Terminal D Sunday to help with the situation. Immigration attorney Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez told KERA there were least five new detainees from an Emirates flight earlier Sunday. KERA intern Linah Mohammad says the five included an American baby with his mother, one Iraqi, one Sudanese and one Iranian. 

Robert Wilonsky with The Dallas Morning News tweeted shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday that these remaining five detainees were released as well. However, as more international flights come in, more people could be detained.

About the order

Included in the executive order is a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The U.S. refugee program is suspended for 120 days. Trump's order imposed the most aggressive ban on Syrians, indefinitely blocking entry to the U.S. by anyone from that country, including those fleeing civil war.

On Saturday evening, a federal judge issued an emergency order temporarily barring the U.S. from deporting people from nations subject to the travel ban. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly issued the order after lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a court petition on behalf of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations who were detained at airports across the country as the ban took effect.

Families wait, worrying and wondering

Worried families and angry protesters first clustered together Saturday at D/FW airport, where as many as 50 people were detained. Reports vary on the number of people who were held. An attorney told KERA that it was about 50, based on information from families. CAIR officials also say the number was about 50, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

Family members worried about their loved ones raced to Terminal D. A crowd of supporters grew throughout the afternoon and evening, holding signs and chanting: "No hate, no fear. Muslims are welcome here." By 10 p.m. Saturday, there were around 800 protesters.

The Dallas Morning News reports among those held Saturday: a Syrian couple on their way to Dallas to visit their sons, one of whom is a Southern Methodist University student, 20-year-old Osama Al Olabi. 

Al Olabi spent the night at the airport and continued to wait for his parents Sunday, according to KERA intern Linah Mohammad who was at the scene.  

KERA talked with a family who was waiting for their grandmother, who’s diabetic. Amira Mustafa was waiting for her mom, who arrived from Sudan after 22 hours of flying. Mustafa was upset because the news about Trump's executive order came while her mother was en route to the U.S. 

"And now she is here and between us is only the wall," Mustafa says. "I can't see my mom. She is 67. What's the security in 67? She can't even walk. She's in wheelchair."

'Glad to be home'

Neal Behgooy of Plano was among those held at D/FW -- and eventually released Saturday. He and his wife, Shima Sefedari, were flying back from Iran where they were visiting family, including her mother.

They had hoped to bring Sefedari’s mother, who had a non-immigrant visa, with them to the United States. She didn’t make it to Texas. Instead, her mother was stopped in Frankfurt, Germany, and sent back to Iran, Behgooy says.

Behgooy and Sefedari continued to Dallas-Fort Worth. But Behgooy says they were held for about five hours at the airport. They were asked several questions -- from details about family members in Iran to how long they were out of the U.S.

Behgooy, a U.S. citizen, was born in the U.S. His wife has a green card.

“I certainly hope that our policies in the future ... reflect the gratefulness and the civility ... of our great country,” Behgooy told reporters. “We’re glad to be home. We’re just tired.” 

A grateful daughter

Mariam Yasin got to the airport Saturday afternoon and saw lots of families who had been waiting hours to pick up their loved ones.

“We felt bad for them," Yasin said. "And we were trying to soothe them.

"And then we found out it was us, too.”

Yasin stood in Terminal D, waiting for information about her mother, Najah Alshamieh. She is Syrian, a permanent resident of the U.S. and has a Syrian passport. She secured her green card last year. 

Yasin told KERA that her mother was visiting family in Egypt and arrived at D/FW around 1:30 p.m. For hours, airport officials — Yasin said she didn't know who they were — worked with her mother to file paperwork that would allow her to exit the airport. Yasin was able to speak to her. 

“She’s not happy, she’s a little scared," Yasin said. "I don’t know why they’re treating her like that.”

Around 5 p.m., after several hours of being held, Alshamieh was released. Dozens of supporters clapped, chanting “U.S.A.” 

Mariam Yasin and her mother who was detained for several hours Saturday at D/FW International Airport.
Credit Stella M. Chávez / KERA News

Protests break out Saturday and grow

Protests against the executive order broke out the in the terminal. The crowds kept growing throughout early Saturday evening. Participants made signs and chanted to show support for those detained and their families. Religious leaders and Dallas County District Judge Clay Jenkins were also present at the airport. 

'We're not that way,' Dallas mayor says 

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings held a press conference at 6:30 p.m. Saturday about the situation. Rawlings said he's sad about what the president's executive order does for Dallas. He apologized on behalf of the city to those affected by this policy, and said "We're not that way."

Rawlings said Trump's order is bad for business, families, cities and "the heart." He said Trump was following through with a promise — one he shouldn't have made in the first place. Rawlings said people are defined by how they treat others and that today was a "great failing" on America's part.

Watch the press conference:

Reaction across Texas

Learn more about reaction in Texas to Trump's travel ban from KUT in Austin and KUHF in Houston.

Other developments:

  • Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union Sunday say they are still trying to determine how many people are detained in the U.S. as a result of President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project deputy director Lee Gelernt told reporters in a conference call Sunday that there is still a state of confusion over the status of detainees and the rules for entering the country. He said lawyers are waiting for the government to give them a list of names of people who have been detained. Other advocates say that immigration lawyers have had trouble getting to see people who have been detained, with officials refusing to grant access despite court orders in some jurisdictions that they do so.
  • New York City's Kennedy Airport became a scene of anguish Saturday for relatives of people detained after arriving in the U.S. from nations subject to the travel ban. Lawyers and advocates working at the airport say they didn't have a hard count on the number of people taken into custody after getting off their flights. Yosre Ghaled was among about a dozen distraught people waiting at a terminal Saturday to see if loved ones would be released or deported. She says her mother-in-law's sister had been detained. The 67-year-old Yemeni citizen had flown to the U.S. to live with family because she is sick from heart problems and diabetes. Two members of congress joined hundreds of protesters at the airport, demonstrating against the detentions.
  • Cairo airport officials say seven migrants bound for the U.S. have been prevented from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York's JFK airport. Six of them are from Iraq and one from Yemen. The officials say the migrants, escorted by officials from the U.N. refugee agency, were stopped from boarding the plane after authorities at Cairo airport contacted their counterparts in JFK airport. The action follows yesterday's executive order by  Trump suspending refugee admissions for four months.
  • Airlines around the world are turning away passengers, refunding tickets and rebooking flights in the aftermath of the immigration order. That forced airlines to tell some customers they couldn't proceed on flights to the U.S. Dubai-based Emirates said a small number of its passengers were affected Saturday, and it was helping them rebook. Delta Air Lines and British Airways both said they were offering refunds for passengers who couldn't complete their trips. Several airlines, including Qatar Airways, posted travel alerts on their websites warning customers about the changes.
  • Google, Apple and other tech giants are expressing dismay over the executive order on immigration. The U.S. tech industry relies on foreign engineers and other technical experts for a sizeable percentage of its workforce. The order bars entry to the U.S. for anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. The move could heighten tensions between the new Trump administration and one of the nation's most economically and culturally important industries. That's especially true if Trump goes on to revamp the industry's temporary worker permits known as H-1B visas, as some fear. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a memo to employees that "We have reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect on our coworkers and our company."

 

  • An early-morning fire Saturday has destroyed a Texas mosque that was a target of hatred several years ago and experienced a burglary just a week ago. The Victoria fire marshal in Victoria has asked for help from the Texas Fire Marshal's Office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine what caused the blaze.

KERA's Stella M. Chavez, Eric Aasen, Molly Evans and Linah Mohammad contributed to this story, which also includes reporting from the Associated Press.