Attorneys stationed at John F. Kennedy Airport to assist passengers detained under President Donald Trump's travel ban issued statements Monday afternoon, saying they believe about ten people have been detained by Customs and Border Protection today—an Iraqi national, another person whose country of origin is unknown, and as many as nine others who arrived at JFK from Saudi Arabia around 11:40 this morning.
The ban, which was instated Friday, bars all refugees, as well as immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, for a number of months. It also bans Syrian refugees indefinitely.
"Among those being reportedly held include one elderly individual and one child," stated the JFK attorneys, who have formed the group NoBan JFK with support from the New York Immigration Coalition.
NoBan JFK believes the group detained today are the only detainees as of 4:30 p.m. Since Trump's travel ban went into effect Friday, they say they have helped release 42 detainees.
But those stationed at the airport, as well as attorneys challenging the executive order federally with the American Civil Liberties Union, caution that numbers are constantly fluctuating and difficult to confirm, as Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security are not cooperating with attorneys by providing official lists of detainees.
"The White House says no one is still detained, but our volunteer attorneys are telling different stories," said NYCLU Director Donna Lieberman on a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon.
"CBP isn't providing us with information, so all of the information we are getting is word of mouth from people on site," said attorney Salaam Bhatti, who has been volunteering pro bono at JFK. "Thankfully we have a great team here, working around the clock. Right now we have over 30 attorneys, and not just on site but also people off site who are helping draft pleas."
Rpts heard about 9 ppl from Saudi FLT 021 JFK Term 1 at 11:40AM held now for questioning, incl elderly & children. UPDTS to come #NoBanJFK
— NoBanJFK (@nobanjfk) January 30, 2017
A stay issued in Brooklyn federal court late Saturday night ordered Customs and Border Protection to stop all deportations while an ACLU lawsuit is considered. And on Sunday, DHS reiterated Secretary John Kelly's decision to grant access to lawful permanent residents, or green card holders.
But ACLU attorneys said Monday that they believe CBP has continued to detain immigrants with various visas, as well as green cards, for hours at JFK. They said that chaos seemed to be the rule of the weekend, with mixed messages from Washington on how the order is to be implemented.
"What we've seen in practice is that lawful permanent residents who might have before Friday sailed through the admission process at a port of entry have been detained for many hours," said NYCLU staff attorney Jordan Wells, who spent much of the weekend at JFK. "While the agency fumbles around with the decision of whether to admit them to the country."
"We also know from numerous accounts that arrivals were pressured by CBP to withdraw their applications for admission into the country, both before and seemingly after the stay issue was ordered in our case," Wells added. "So what you have is the agency subverting the court's order by using coercive tactics."
CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment; DHS did not respond to multiple requests.
On Sunday evening, lawyers said, an Iranian man with a green card was detained and held for three hours at JFK after arriving on a flight from Morocco. The man is a lawyer, they said, and has lived in the US since 2009. He was questioned about his trip, family, and career.
While attorneys continue to organize at JFK, Bhatti said they are also beginning to coordinate with volunteers around the world, to set up similar legal assistance operations at foreign airports. As the number of detainees in American airports dwindles, the Department of Homeland Security has reiterated its intention to stop banned individuals from boarding flights to the US. There are already numerous reports of Green Card and visa holders being detained at foreign airports, including a CUNY student with an F1 visa.
"We are collecting information from attorneys from America who will be traveling abroad," said Bhatti. "We are slowly getting info from attorneys in other nations who want to help."
With continuing reports of lengthy questioning and hours of detainment, Bhatti acknowledged that immigrants and refugees who manage to get on planes to the US could get a hostile reception.
"It might be best to wait a month and let the dust settle," he said. "But we do understand, at the same time, that these are refugees who may need to leave their home country. If it's that kind of urgency, come here and we'll do what we can."