Travelers being held at O’Hare due to executive order released

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CHICAGO -- (Chicago Tribune) U.S. authorities took more than a dozen travelers into custody Saturday at O'Hare International Airport in response to President Donald Trump's immigration order – but lawyers who came to their aid said all were set free after a federal judge temporarily barred deportations.

The Trump crackdown on immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries set off a tumultuous day at O'Hare as frantic relatives, hundreds of protesters and the volunteer lawyers gathered at the airport.

Even before a federal judge in New York ruled to block the U.S. from sending people out of the country under Trump's order, a few of those being held at O'Hare had already been released after hours of questioning. They included Hessan Noorian, a Park Ridge resident returning with his family from Iran.

Noorian and his wife, Zahra Amirisefat, knew about Trump's order before boarding their flight home to Chicago. But the couple never imagined it would apply to them.

“The only thing I can say is, it seems something changed,” Noorian said.

Noorian has a green card, as well as British and Iranian citizenship, and Amirisefat is a U.S. citizen. Their son, Ryan, was born six months ago in suburban Chicago. They had been visiting Tehran to introduce their child to their family.

When they landed at O'Hare around noon Saturday, immigration officers told them Noorian could not enter the country without answering some questions, Amirisefat said. They waved her and the baby through but, despite her husband's urging her to go home, she refused to leave without him.“I was scared,” she said. “I didn't know what was going to happen to him, if they would send him back. I wasn't going to leave him to go through that alone.”

The couple, who said they work at Oakton Community College, then texted Amirisefat's brother and submitted to five hours of on-and-off questioning. The treatment during the detention was neither abusive nor exemplary, she said. She was allowed to nurse her son in a private room after making several requests, and her husband was given juice when he felt his blood sugar levels drop.

The couple — jet-lagged from their 20-hour trip home from Iran — looked tired and confused as they exited customs around 5:30 p.m. Noorian carried the names of about a dozen people he said were still being held and phone numbers for their relatives.

Noorian's brother-in-law, Mohammad Amirisefat, said before Noorian's release: “This is insulting. This is insane, this is truly insane.”

After the release, Noorian's wife said: “I can't believe something like this can happen to someone with a green card.”

Trump's executive order, signed late Friday afternoon, suspends entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks entry for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The Department of Homeland Security said the order also bars green card holders from those countries from re-entering the United States. White House officials said Saturday that green card holders from the seven affected countries would need a case-by-case waiver to return to the U.S.

Hundreds of people protested inside and outside O'Hare's international terminal Saturday night, chanting, “The whole world is watching.” As the crowds swelled, police shut down vehicle access to the terminal.

“It's horrifying,” protester Rachel Shinville, 24, said of the ban. “It's inhumane and I'm pretty sure it's illegal. It takes a lot of people to allow something like this to happen.”

About 150 lawyers summoned by the International Refugee Assistance Project gathered near McDonald's at O'Hare to represent those being held. The lawyers paced through the arrivals terminal, making their presence known to people waiting for travelers.

Heidi Walczak, 40, of Arlington Heights, bought coffee for the lawyers at O'Hare. Another person bought pizzas. Cheers erupted. “We just wanted to help out and come and show our support,” Walczak said. “I'm not a lawyer, so I can't do any of the legal stuff.”

Members of the lawyers group said 17 people were taken into custody, and shortly after 10 p.m. they confirmed that all had been let go. None of them held refugee status, said Hannah Garst, a Chicago lawyer.

Another Chicago area resident temporarily caught in the federal net was Iranian Kasra Noohi, 70, of Chicago's South Loop neighborhood.

His sons, Ayden, 37, and Bardia, 32, waited for hours at O'Hare for their father, who they said had a U.S. green card. According to the sons, Noohi was on his plane, traveling from the United Arab Emirates, when Trump signed his order.

“Part of me is angry, part of me is scared,” Bardia Noohi said. “I feel like this is just the beginning.”

Ayden Noohi said this incident made him think of when people of Japanese descent were put into internment camps during World War II. “Is history going to repeat itself?” he said. “Are we going to go down this path of racism?”

After a long wait for their father to emerge, they found out that he had been freed earlier, had not seen them in the confusing, protester-filled crowd, and had simply taken a cab home to the South Loop.

“The protesters are great but if I can't see my dad coming out then it's kind of missing the point," said Bardia Noohi.

Another person held, Abdulsalam Mused, 67, of Oak Lawn, was freed after more than six hours of questioning, and he stopped to shake hands with the volunteer attorneys and protesters. He said authorities repeatedly asked him whether he was carrying weapons and whether he had visited his native Yemen while on his trip to Saudi Arabia for his son's wedding.

He said he was treated nicely, but the experience still left him shaken.

“I received political asylum in the United States because I stood up to terrorists in Yemen,” said Mused, who has lived in the U.S. for 18 years. “This is the first time in my life that I was made to feel like a terrorist.”

Wearing a pinstripe suit and tie, Mused encouraged the president to rescind his order.

“This is not what America is about,” he said. “America is about freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It's a country of immigrants. It's not this.”

His son Nasser Mused, 36, also of Oak Lawn, said his father was looking forward to seeking citizenship this May.

“He did everything right,” Nasser Mused said. “He feels safe here because you have freedom of speech and freedom to be who you want to be. This is our country. He would do anything to serve this country.”

Nour Ulayyet, 40, of Valparaiso, Ind., told The Associated Press that her sister, a Syrian living in Saudi Arabia, was sent back after arriving at O'Hare from Riyadh and told she couldn't enter the U.S. to help care for their sick mother. Ulayyet said some officials at the airport were apologizing to her sister, who had a valid visa.

“My mom was already having pain enough to go through this on top of the pain that she's having.”

-Chicago Tribune Report