Up to 50 people were reportedly detained at DFW Airport Saturday under President Donald Trump’s executive order that bars immigrants from some predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
People supporting those being detained held signs that read “Release our Family!” and “Deport Trump!!” in the international area of Terminal D at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, where family members were angry, confused and frustrated with the treatment of their loved ones.
Alia Salem, with the The Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that about 50 people, including green card holders, were being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at DFW because they are from countries listed in Trump’s executive order.
One woman, Najah Alshamieh, 55, from Syria, was released late Saturday afternoon and embraced by her children.
Salem said about 50 people were initially being detained in a holding area, but 40 were removed — it’s not clear where they went — leaving nine people in the one holding area.
Federal officials would not confirm the number of people being detained and DFW Airport officials declined to comment.
Among those being held are the parents of Osama Alolabi, 20, of Syria. He’s a junior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and his parents came here to visit, but were denied entry.
Aloabi said they've been staying in Saudi Arabia but have Syrian passports and were traveling on B1-B2 Visitor Visas, which are generally used for business, tourism or visiting.
“I'm really terrified about my family,” said Aloabi, who last saw his parents in August. “That's all I can think about, is their safety.”
Trump signed the order — which bans the entry of refugees from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – on Friday, saying it’s designed to “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.”
“We don’t want them here,” Trump said. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.”
There are two flights that arrived at DFW Saturday from the Middle East. Emirates Airline operates a daily flight from Dubai that arrived around 9 a.m. and Qatar Airways operates a daily flight that arrived from Doha around 3:45 p.m.
The order covers green card holders, which are legal permanent residents, and visa-holders from those seven countries who are out of the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security. The order says they cannot return to the U.S. for 90 days.
Exemptions exist for immigrants and legal permanent residents whose entry is in the U.S. national interest, but it’s unclear how that exemption will be applied.
Trump’s crackdown was reverberating across the world as airlines hurried to block residents from the banned countries from traveling to the U.S. while others who were already in flight when the order was signed were detained upon arriving at airports, including John F. Kennedy in New York and DFW, both of which are huge international gateways.
In Iran, the foreign ministry suggested the country would limit issuing visas to American tourists in retaliation.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent a message on Twitter Saturday, saying refugees were welcome in his country, “regardless of your faith.”
Two of the first people blocked from entering the United States were Iraqis with links to the U.S. military, according to The Associated Press.
Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi were detained by immigration officials after landing at New York’s JFK Airport Friday night. Darweesh had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army when it invaded Iraq in 2003. Later he worked as a contract engineer. He was allowed into the U.S. Saturday afternoon, hours after his attorney petitioned a federal court to let the two men go, according to AP.
In their court filing, his lawyers said Alshawai’s wife had worked for a U.S. security contractor in Iraq. Members of her family had been killed by insurgents because of their association with the U.S. military.
CAIR officials said they would challenge the constitutionality of Trump’s order.
“There is no evidence that refugees — the most thoroughly vetted of all people entering our nation — are a threat to national security,” said Lena F. Masri, the group’s national litigation director. “This is an order that is based on bigotry, not reality.”
It is unclear how many people would be immediately impacted by the non-refugee travel ban. According to the statistics maintained by the Homeland Security Department, about 17,000 students from the seven designated countries were allowed into the U.S. for the 2015-2016 school year. In 2015 more than 86,000 people from those countries arrived in the U.S. on other, non-immigrant visas and more than 52,000 others became legal permanent residents.
Last year the U.S. resettled 85,000 people displaced by war, political oppression, hunger and religious prejudice, including more than 12,000 Syrians. Before leaving office President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would accept 110,000 refugees in the coming year, but Trump’s order cut that by more than half to 50,000.
No refugees were in the air when the travel ban was signed Friday, but about 350 people were in transit in Nairobi, Kenya, and were now stuck there, said Melanie Nezer, vice president of policy and advocacy for HIAS, a refugee resettlement aid agency. She said several hundred more people who were booked on U.S.-bound flights in the next week were now stranded around the globe.
“This in effect could be a permanent ban,” she said. “Many of these people may never be able to come.”
This report contains information from The Associated Press.