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We still don’t know how many people are being detained at US airports

After a weekend of chaos at the nation’s international airports, it’s still unclear how many people are being held in detention as a result of President Trump’s executive orders pausing the U.S. refugee program and temporarily blocking entry for nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security started telling news outlets, including ABC and NBC, that all individuals detained after Trump’s executive order on immigration over the weekend have since been released.


But attorneys advocating for the detainees said that’s impossible to verify because DHS has thus far not provided a list of those detained by Customs and Border Protection.

“We don’t have the number of people still detained,” Amy Spitalnick, press secretary to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, wrote in an email to VICE News. “The chaos and lack of information is one of the reasons AG Schneiderman wrote to DHS and CBP yesterday demanding a plan to implement the court orders and a full list of those still detained at JFK [Airport].”

As part of her stay halting parts of the immigration orders issued Saturday night, Judge Anne Donnelly of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered government attorneys to provide the American Civil Liberties Union with a complete list of detainees.

“That will be hard,” the government said. “There are hundreds of people coming in.”

On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security appeared to have a list of those who’d been denied entry but not a list of those detained. DHS told Reuters “about” 375 travelers had been affected by the order, including 109 who were denied entry and 173 prevented from boarding flights.

Andre Segura, senior staff attorney with the Immigrants Rights Project at the ACLU, told VICE News that it was “impossible” to get a complete list of people detained at airports across the U.S. right now.

“The way we have been finding out about individuals who are detained is from family members awaiting their arrival,” said Segura, adding said he believes people are “still detained at JFK and other airports.”


“Processing has been incredibly slow,” he added.

Judge Donnelly issued a court order granting an emergency stay temporarily preventing the deportation of anyone who was detained as the result of Trump’s executive order on immigration, but the order did not bar detentions and questioning.

In the early hours of Monday morning, NoBanJFK, a group of volunteer attorneys and translators camped out at JFK’s Terminal 4, tweeted that one person was in detention, 41 people had been released since Saturday night, and two had been deported. VICE News has been unable to independently confirm those numbers.

Gihan Thomas, an immigration attorney with her own firm in Los Angeles, said “many of the people who were detained have now been released” but was unable to confirm whether there were additional detainees inside the airport.

She said that permanent residents were being let through on a case-by-case basis; if it appears that an individual makes frequent trips back and forth to any of the blacklisted countries, that person may be subject to additional questioning.

The situation at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., remains particularly unclear. Some immigration attorneys, having been told by Customs and Border Protection officials that they had nobody in detention, suspect that detainees have been transported to offsite holding centers.

VICE News has been unable to corroborate whether detainees had been moved to other sites.