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Iraqi refugee released from JFK calls America ‘the land of freedom’

“What do I do for this country? They put the cuffs on.”

Hameed Khalid Darweesh with Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) at JFK airport. CREDIT: @NydiaVelazquez
Hameed Khalid Darweesh with Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) at JFK airport. CREDIT: @NydiaVelazquez

On Friday evening, Hameed Khalid Darweesh was among the many refugees and immigrants whose travel plans were abruptly interrupted when President Donald Trump signed his executive order on immigration.

The order blocks the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States indefinitely; blocks entry for all refugees for 120 days; and puts a 90-day block on entry into the United States for citizens from the predominantly-Muslim countries Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Darweesh, an Iraqi interpreter who had worked on behalf of the United States government, was on his flight with his wife and children when the order was issued. He was detained immediately upon arrival at JFK.

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But after protesters swarmed JFK to show their support for refugees and Darweesh’s lawyers filed a motion seeking his release, he was released shortly after noon on Saturday.

Once free, Darweesh cried as he addressed reporters, and mimicked having his hands behind his back in handcuffs.

“What do I do for this country? They put the cuffs on,” he said, as reported by the New York Times. “You know how many soldiers I touch by this hand?”

Darweesh, who was targeted in Iraq because of how much he assisted the U.S. government, also thanked the protesters who showed up to the airport to support him.

“America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world,” he said. “In Iraq, we know that America is the land of the free.”

Darweesh’s lawyers, including Mark Doss, a supervising attorney at the International Refugee Assistant Project, also represent Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, another detainee who remains in custody.

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When Doss asked the border agent at JFK who he needed to talk to in order to get his clients released, the agent told him, “Call Mr. Trump.”

The text of the order Trump signed on Friday doesn’t mention green card holders or dual citizens, but is currently being interpreted as affecting both. People who have lived in the United States legally for years, and people who hold dual citizenship with the seven banned Muslim countries, could all be impacted.