An Iraqi refugee who was detained at New York's JFK airport late Friday after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning Syrian refugees and people from seven Muslim countries from entering the U.S. was released Saturday afternoon.
Hameed Jhalid Darweesh was detained at the airport shortly after he arrived in the U.S., according to the New York Times. Darweesh worked on behalf of the U.S. military in Iraq for nearly a decade, often as a translator, causing immediate outrage Saturday when news broke of his detention, which was largely blamed on Trump's executive order.
Darweesh's detention received a swift response from lawyers, who filed a writ of habeas corpus on his behalf arguing that his detention was illegal, in addition to two members of Congress, Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
In a press conference outside JFK Saturday, Darweesh spoke for the first time saying that he is simply thankful to be in America and he holds no ill-will over his temporary detainment.
"First of all, I want to thank the people that take care of me and support me," Darweesh said outside the airport. "They leave their family, their business to support me. This is humanity. This is the soul of America. This is what pushed me to move and leave my country and move here. And I'm very, very thankful for all of the people who come to support me. Thank you very much."
"America is the land of freedom, the land of rights — and I'm very thankful and I'm very happy," he added. "Really, I forget what I faced and what happened to me."
Responding to a question from a member of the media, Darweesh said of America: "America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world."
Iraqi interpreter released, excited to be with his family. He still loves America. pic.twitter.com/ZpeQ933d9d— Sebastian Murdock (@SebastianMurdoc) January 28, 2017
Darweesh made headlines early Saturday when news broke that he and fellow Iraqi refugee Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi were being detained, despite being granted U.S. visas as refugees. They arrived on separate flights, but lawyers filed the writ of habeas corpus on both of their behalf's.
According to the New York Post, Darweesh and Alshawi, who also worked as a U.S. contractor in Iraq, were two of 12 refugees being detained at JFK. It isn't immediately known how many other refugees are being held at U.S. ports of entry.