Roller coaster of heartbreak and fury at Sea-Tac in wake of Trump order | KUOW News and Information

Roller coaster of heartbreak and fury at Sea-Tac in wake of Trump order

Jan 28, 2017

When officials at Sea-Tac International Airport got wind of President Donald Trump’s latest order, it came like a slap in the face.

It was just before midnight on Friday when they learned there would be a temporary – but immediate – ban on all refugees and immigrants from several majority-Muslim countries.

Passengers didn’t know this when they boarded their planes, and perhaps they wouldn’t have started the journey if they knew. But they were in the air, oblivious, as the world woke up to the president’s latest executive order.

When these people stepped off those Delta, British Airways and Eva Airlines planes, they expected to rush into warm embraces; instead, they were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

At least a handful of cases were confirmed Saturday. Around the country, the estimate is in the hundreds. The details remain fuzzy, because information came from families and friends on the U.S. side of the customs wall.

One person detained was related to a Sea-Tac airport worker. Another was the sister of a blind Iraqi man who lives in Seattle. They hadn’t spent time together in 15 years.

News of the detentions trickled out slowly at first. Attorneys with the ACLU and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project got calls from families, and they bee-lined to the airport with little knowledge and a sinking feeling in their gut.

They learned three of the detained were being turned right back around — flight was at 5 p.m. Attorneys scrambled to file habeas briefs to stop those planes.

As news got out to the public, a chill settled over Seattle. Here, many workers in the tech sector are immigrants, and many from Muslim countries. Microsoft sent an email to its employees saying that 76 employees were vulnerable. Amazon, too, had employees who would not be allowed back in the country if they left. One employee, from Syria originally, was warned not to leave the country lest he not be allowed back in.

Washington state officials were irate. They realized how little power they had to stop what was happening – the best they could do was open a conference room near baggage claim so families waiting for news about detained relatives could be slightly more comfortable.

The wife of a Somali refugee, in yellow, right, leaves Sea-Tac without her husband. He had flown in from Vienna on Saturday but was turned around by U.S. Customs. Attorneys scrambled to file a habeas brief to prevent his departure, but it was too late.
Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

Gov. Jay Inslee called the White House directly to rant, and was told his message would be relayed. He still hadn’t heard back, he told reporters testily.

He, almost always a measured man, was furious. He was incensed that officials were given no notice — and that people were allowed to board planes headed for the States, only to be detained upon arrival. 

"We have a family here — Donald Trump allowed her husband to get on a plane in Vienna but wouldn't let him walk the six feet to embrace his wife," Inslee said. 

He called it "a grossly unconstitutional and highly illegal act." 

Then he evoked the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The politicians who followed him also mentioned the internment. Their jaws were clenched, their faces red – this wasn’t just politics talking. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, whose husband has relatives who were interned, was particularly vocal on this point.  

They had been caught off guard – just seven days into Trump’s administration — and it was clear they felt powerless, and for that, they were angry.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Seattle denounced the secrecy around the detentions, and that some people were denied lawyers.

“We do provide attorneys at Guantanamo Bay,” she said. “We should be able to provide attorneys right here at Sea-Tac airport. We will not let this stand.”

Dow Constantine, the King County executive, said Trump's first week "has done more damage to the prospects of Americans than any terrorist could do." 

These are fighting words from Pacific Northwest politicians who, in public anyway, hew toward "Seattle nice."

Jewish children protest the so-called Muslim travel ban at Sea-Tac International Airport on Saturday evening.
Credit KUOW File Photo/Liz Jones

Not that it was the first time this week these politicians found themselves behind a podium, shaking their fist at the new president. On Wednesday, Murray spoke passionately about protecting undocumented immigrants.

As word got out to the public, people jumped on Light Rail bound for the airport, determined to protest. At one point, there were so many people flooding the airport that the light rail station was closed. Within hours, 3,000 people stormed baggage claim, shouting, “Let them in!” Elected officials milled about among them.

And then, at the moment of fever pitch, federal judges in New York, Seattle and elsewhere issued a temporary stay of Trump’s executive order on Saturday night, halting parts that involve airport detentions.

It was too late for one Somali refugee, who was turned around.

Two others were sitting on a plane, nose toward the Middle East but not moving. They remained in their seats late Saturday night, according to the ACLU.

At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, 12 people were detained, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York said on Twitter. He and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, also of New York, went to JFK on Saturday, hoping to help release those detained.

An Iraqi man, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was released. Darweesh was an interpreter for the U.S. military during the Iraq War, according to news reports. 

Reporter Liz Jones covers the protest at Sea-Tac International Airport on Saturday evening: