WASHINGTON – Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) was swimming against the current at John F. Kennedy International Airport Saturday night, lobbying for the release of vetted refugees and visa holders who hoped gain entry to the US as President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning their entry.
He succeeded in securing the release of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi national who worked for the United States Army as a contractor and interpreter for nearly a decade.
Darweesh was detained for 14 hours after the president on Friday directed the Department of Homeland Security to turn away all citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
There were at least 10 additional foreign nationals stuck at JFK on Saturday morning.
But “more and more people are being detained,” Nadler said in a phone interview. “And we heard there’s a plane full of Iranians en route.”
The scope of Trump’s executive order has caught state and federal law enforcement officials off guard. Citizens from these countries – which together comprise of 134 million people – will not be allowed entry into the US even if they are green card holders, or hold dual nationality with countries that are not listed.
“The whole executive order is disgusting and unconstitutional,” Nadler said. “The whole thing is just wrong – its religious discrimination. And it’s unconstitutional, because Muslims can’t come in but Christians can.”
Particularly irksome to Nadler, one of Congress’s most prominent Jewish voices, is the president’s decision to sign the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The mitzva most often repeated is, ‘You shall not oppress the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt’ – and what are we doing?” Nadler asked. “It’s pure hypocrisy, because he’s doing exactly what caused a lot of deaths by the Nazis when we turned away Jews in the ’30s.”
Several major American-Jewish organizations have joined Nadler’s cause: The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee both released strong statements of disapproval, characterizing the order as cruel and contrary to Jewish values.
Nadler expects to lead a “raucous” revolt against the measure in the House, and said he expects a class action suit would proceed in the Eastern District of New York.
“There are good grounds for saying this is unconstitutional,” Nadler said, still at the airport.
“We’ll fight it.”