JFK TERMINAL 4 – Dozens of lawyers gathered at John F. Kennedy’s Terminal 4 on Sunday, working frantically to secure the release of at least a dozen people still detained as a result of Donald Trump’s executive order, in apparent violation of a federal judge’s ruling Saturday night.
The president’s order suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days; suspends Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely, and blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days, as refugees or otherwise. U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly’s ruling prevents detainees from being deported.
Four detainees who had secured legal representation were released Sunday morning, Laura Berger, an immigration attorney with the City Bar Justice Center and volunteer with the Immigrant and Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), told Jezebel. At least a dozen detainees were still being held at JFK on Sunday afternoon, Berger could not say precisely how many, as Customs and Border Protection Officials have not cooperated with the immigration lawyers’ inquiries.
Lawyers working with IRAP and the American Civil Liberties Union have only been able to identify detainees by canvassing the arrivals sections, searching for family members of those held by CBP. The agency’s JFK field office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Jezebel; the voicemail at the agency’s DC office was full.
“They’ve released people with green cards,” Berger said, “but they’re not fully complying with the judge’s order. They’re still detaining people. The order is supposed to apply to everyone who is currently detained.”
Berger said that CBP officials have taken detainees travel documents and sent them to headquarters in Washington, D.C. for “screening.” What CBP—a part of the Department of Homeland Security—is actually screening for remains unclear. “All of these people have already been screened,” Berger said. In addition to green-card holders, they are students (for whom the screening process lasts as long as three months) and refugees (for whom the process can take up to two years).
In a tweet, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote that Gen. John F. Kelly, the president’s recently-confirmed pick to run Homeland Security, assured him that the federal court order would be complied with. “All those still in airports expected to be admitted,” Schumer wrote. Whether that will come to pass remains to be seen: according to Make the Road New York, a community organizing group, some detainees lacking legal representation have signed withdrawals of admission or voluntary departure forms, likely while exhausted or even under coercion from CBP officials. Jezebel has not been not able to independently confirm this.
On Sunday, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said that green-card holders would not be prevented from returning to the United States, although he added that border agents had “discretionary authority” to detain travelers. Some airlines—including Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic—are nevertheless still blocking U.S. green-card holders from returning to the United States, another lawyer working with IRAP told Jezebel. Neither airline immediately returned a request for comment.
Families of detainees or of ticket-holders turned away at the gate trying to return to the United States can contact immigration attorneys by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact Jezebel at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.