Amer Askar's family arrived at JFK at 8 a.m. Saturday morning. His aunt, Iman, was finally set to arrive from Baghdad on a green card that her daughters fought long and hard to obtain.
But when a flight attendant came out to greet the family at Terminal 7, she had bad news.
Iman, fresh off a connecting flight from Qatar, had been detained. She was told she’d be put on a 9:30 p.m. flight home.
“She landed at 7:30 this morning,” Askar said. “Then we start hearing rumors that they might be turned back.”
Askar has been in the army for 11 years, he said. He even has a security clearance, he says. (The Daily Beast was not independently able to verify his status, but there is a military email in his name in the public record.)
“One percent of Americans [serve in the Armed Forces]. And I do this. And they’re not letting my family in,” Askar, 31, said. “[Border Patrol said], you can talk to Mr. Trump to change it.”
Askar was at the airport with Iman’s two daughters, Elaf and Anfal Hussain, and their father. They huddled in Terminal 4 with volunteer lawyers with IRAP, who were filing petitions on behalf of those detained.
Lawyers from over a dozen firms started showing up at Terminal 4 in the afternoon at the behest of the ACLU and IRAP. They commandeered the seating belonging to the Central Diner's "to-go" area. The lawyers keep ordering food in order to hold the tables. There are teams in terminals 4, 7, 8, and 9 trying to identify the families of those being held behind customs to offer legal advice organized by the ACLU.
Avi Gesser, a partner at Davis Polk, says that the lawyers could be there all night. "We are here to give legal advice to families,” he explained. The lawyers are trying to file writs of habeas corpus on behalf of those they can identify as detainees.
And those whose family members are in limbo just want some sort of resolution.
"She wanted to be with us because she was married but her husband passed away...And she doesn’t have nobody there anymore," Anfal, Iman's daughter, said.
The sisters came to the United States in 2009. When they became citizens, they began the process of bringing their mother over. She doesn’t speak English, and hasn’t been able to contact her family all day.
“Everything processed, everything got approved, and now she’s stuck,” Elaf said. Iman called them once, “telling me that she’s scared.”
At one point, Congressman Gregory Meeks came out to talk to the families.
“Thank you for your service,” he told Asker. “This is my district. It’s supposed to be the gateway to America.”
And then the family was whisked away to share their story with the gathered crowds.
“I just want to take my mom home,” Efal said. “I’ll do anything to get my mom home.”