If an online travel agency had not temporarily blocked a credit card payment, forcing him to rebook a later flight, Hameed Khalid Darweesh probably would have landed at Kennedy International Airport in New York before President Trump signed his executive order restricting refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.
Instead, the Iraqi immigrant, who worked with the United States military and government for a decade at great personal risk, watched as his wife and three children disappeared into the main part of the arrivals terminal early on Friday evening. Instead of being allowed to accompany them, Mr. Darweesh found himself detained overnight — at times handcuffed — and unsure if he would be returned to Iraq, the country he had fled in fear for his life.
“We have a moral obligation to protect and repay these people who risked their lives for U.S. troops,” said Brandon Friedman, who, as an infantry lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division, worked with Mr. Darweesh in Iraq. Mr. Friedman later served in the Obama administration at both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“There are not many Americans who have done as much for this country as he has,” Mr. Friedman added. “He’s put himself on the line. He’s put his family on the line to help U.S. soldiers in combat, and it is astonishing to me that this country would suddenly not allow people like that in.”
Mr. Darweesh’s luck would turn in the midst of a chaotic day for United States Customs and Border Protection. Thanks to a handful of immigration lawyers who spent the darkest hours of Saturday morning writing motions and wheedling information from immigration officials, Mr. Darweesh was released in the early afternoon after spending nearly 19 hours in detention. The intercession of two Democratic representatives from New York — Jerrold Nadler and Nydia M. Velázquez — surely helped clear the way.
Outside the terminal, Mr. Darweesh was greeted by his advocates, as well as protesters opposed to the Trump policy who had come to the airport to support him and the others who had been detained.
Though shaken, Mr. Darweesh paused to speak to the media before moving on to reunite with his family. A reporter asked if he was angry. “No, because I have these people,” he said, gripping his lawyer’s shoulder. “This is America.”
Yet the knowledge that at least 10 other people remained in detention here, as well as many others at other airports around the country, dulled the celebration.
“These people were in the air with valid visas,” Mr. Nadler said. “I don’t think people are going to be getting on planes now.”
Mr. Friedman said the new policy made him fear for America’s military.
“This not only endangers troops in the future, it endangers troops who are in combat now in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, wherever,” he said. “If those interpreters and those fixers hear that the United States is not going to protect them, then they don’t have any incentive to work with U.S. troops, and there’s no way that we can operate without their support and assistance.”