Sea-Tac detainees watched the protests and felt grateful for the solidarity | KUOW News and Information

Sea-Tac detainees watched the protests and felt grateful for the solidarity

Jan 29, 2017

Muwafag Gasim, a construction engineer in Seattle, touched down at Sea-Tac International Airport at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.

He lined up with his fellow passengers to present his passport and visa to U.S. Customs and Border Protection – a step required of passengers flying in from abroad.

He was detained. Agents told him they were holding him because of an executive order that President Donald Trump signed on Friday.

This, even though federal judges in Seattle, Brooklyn and elsewhere had put a stay on Trump’s executive order late Saturday night.

As he waited, agents told him they were checking with an office in Washington, D.C., to get the green light to release him. Around 1:30 p.m., they did. He collected his luggage and walked out.

“It’s not a good feeling to be honest with you,” said Gasim, who received a master’s degree from the University of Washington.

“I understand it — politics and orders and these things, but I mean, we want to be in America and we want to feel safe; we want to feel like we are sharing the land with our brothers and sisters, and we would love to do whatever is possible to participate in the development in this nation.”

Sudan is among the seven countries included in the temporary – but immediate – ban on all refugees and immigrants.

Elsewhere at Sea-Tac, a Seattle attorney worried about a Syrian green card holder who was supposed to arrive on an 11:50 a.m. flight. The woman had not shown up yet, and no one knew if she had been detained.

Muwafag Gasim, of Sudan and Seattle, was detained for five hours upon return from a family visit. Gasim is a construction engineer in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Kate Walters

Other attorneys worried about three women and some children due to land at 6 a.m. Monday. They might breeze through customs, but attorneys were prepared for a struggle.

It’s unclear how many people were detained at Sea-Tac on Saturday; the number nationwide appears to be in the hundreds.

Attorneys rushed Saturday to file habeas briefs to keep refugees, visitors and immigrants on U.S. soil while they could sort things out. They succeeded in getting two people released.

A Somali man was ultimately sent home by plane to Vienna. His wife was just six feet away from him, on the U.S. side of the customs wall, when he was detained.

One of the passengers who was released is an engineer from Sudan who lives in the United Arab Emirates; he was attending an engineering conference in the U.S.

The other individual is a Yemeni citizen who was born in Saudi Arabia and was coming to visit family here in the U.S. 

According to Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:

Both clients expressed their gratitude for the support of so many Americans. While in the custody of Custom and Border Protection, they were able to watch coverage of the protests at the airport and they both expressed gratitude for those expressions of solidarity.  We are grateful to the many political leaders who urged their release.

No one else is believed to be currently detained at the airport, according to the ACLU.

Trump issued a statement on Sunday regarding the federal judge’s stay on his executive order.

America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border. America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say.

My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror. To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting.

In fact, President Barack Obama did not ban visas for refugees in 2011. That year, more than 9,000 Iraqi refugees resettled in the U.S. The Obama administration did stop taking new refugee visa requests for six months, which slowed the flow of refugees dramatically.  

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A protest of Trump's executive order is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Westlake in downtown Seattle.

The ACLU of Washington is asking anyone in Washington state who was impacted by the travel ban or immigration limitations to contact them: travel@aclu-wa.org or 206-679-7470.

Sen. Patty Murray is scheduled to speak at the airport at 4:45 p.m.

Liz Jones and Gil Aegerter contributed reporting.

Correction 1/29/2017, 5:45 p.m.: There are no refugees expected to arrive Sunday evening as previously stated in this report. The next arrival is Monday morning.