How One Syrian Family Navigated the Weekend Airport Chaos
Najah al-Shalmeih was saved from legal limbo thanks to her green card, but others weren't so lucky.
By the time Najah al-Shalmeih walked toward her family at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Saturday night, at the end of her long trip from her native Syria, the crowd of protesters and supporters numbered in the dozens—and her son's emotions had grown beyond his ability to handle. Hisham Yasin cried as he embraced his mother and as the crowd cheered. Jubilant, he led them in a chant: "USA! USA! USA!"
Yasin kept chanting as he walked his mother—detained for nine hours despite having a US green card—toward a scrum of media wanting to get her story.
The grandmother opened her bag and gave her grandchildren candy.
Yasin, his wife, and their children made up one of at least nine families waiting for their loved ones who flew in on Emirates flight EK221 from Dubai. They were one of an untold number of people across the country who waited on Saturday to learn the fate of their family members and friends who had been detained following an executive order signed by Donald Trump on Friday night that banned travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries and temporarily suspended all refugee admissions.
Over the weekend there was confusion about how the order was supposed to be interpreted—initially, the White House indicated that it would apply to lawful permanent residents of the US (a.k.a. green card holders, like al-Shalmeih) returning from these countries, but White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus seemed to contradict that on Sunday morning.
Unlike most of those in Dallas last night, Yasin was was able to leave the airport with some semblance of closure, his mother safely on the right side of a security barrier.
Samar Mustafa wasn't so lucky.
"I don't know how the president can just decide something like this and it can immediately happen," Mustafa told VICE.
Mustafa's mother, Shadia Osaman, could be seen lying down every time the doors opened to let people into the US side of the international terminal. "Go in there and get her mom out!" Mustafa's family yelled throughout the night. Osaman is from Sudan, which like Syria is one of the countries included in the executive order, and was traveling to Dallas to see her daughter and her granddaughter. As of midnight there was still no sign of her.
"If he knew this was going to happen, why didn't he say so before?" Mustafa asked of Trump. "Is this how it's going to be as president?"
Despite an order from a federal judge declaring a stay on Trump's executive order on Saturday night, Mustafa's mother remained in detention late Saturday night, as well as several other travellers on the flight from Dubai.
"No word," on them, Alia Salem of the local chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, or CAIR, texted VICE late Saturday.
The families of nine detained passengers waited for hours to learn their fate. At one point, Yasin's oldest child, no more than five, began to offer candy to the growing group of family members, advocates, journalists, and attorneys. His younger brother slept in his Yasin's arms while another brother cried for a balloon that had gotten away. Salem put out the word to supporters and media. Men and women showed up and began making signs. Cameras arrived. Yasin and his family fretted nonetheless.
By the time his mother arrived, Yasin was beside himself. She emerged from the double glass doors in a white hijab, running and smiling at her daughter, Mariam, wearing a similar white silk hijab. They embraced and cried. For a moment in Terminal D on this strange night of fear and uncertainty there was joy.
That lasted only so long.
Mustafa approached Najah al-Shalmeih after she greeted her jubilant daughter. The 47-year-old wanted to know about her mother, detained on the other side for being from Sudan.
"Have you seen her? How is she doing?" Mustafa asked.
Mustafa was told that her mother was fine—though she hadn't been able to text her daughter for several hours due to a dead cell phone—and that she along with several others was waiting to hear her fate.
Everyone back there is tired, al-Shalmeih reported. They have been waiting for so long and have been sitting on chairs, some of them lying on the floor, going to sleep, al-Shalmeih said. But they are there, for now.
Al-Shalmeih made her way through the media scrum, past multiple interviews, and eventually out the door with her family. Salem stayed around waiting. Her daughter had brought flowers for her grandmother, visiting from Sudan for the first time in years.
"She brought flowers," Salem said of her daughter. "We have been here long enough that the flowers have died."