A Sudanese graduate student from Stanford University was among those on Saturday held at JFK Airport in New York City following the implementation of President Donald Trump's executive immigration order, which temporarily banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country.
Nisrin Elamin, a PhD student at the Peninsula-based campus who is a legal U.S. resident and owns a green card, was recently conducting dissertation research in Sudan when she decided to make a beeline for the states after learning about Trump's intentions to sign the decree, a statute designed by the president to prevent extremists from entering the country and carrying out attacks on American soil.
Unfortunately for Elamin, she missed her original connecting flight from London to the United States. The next available flight landed her at JFK at 10 p.m. EST on Friday, just a matter of hours after the order went into effect.
The student made her way to customs control, but as she scanned her green card, an "X" flashed on the screen. Elamin said immigration officers seemed confused about how to exactly execute the executive order before deciding to ship her to a holding area. For the next six hours, Elamin said she was questioned about her involvement with Sudan, had her luggage and body thoroughly searched, and was once handcuffed while being shuttled between holding areas. She couldn't help but be overcome by emotion during the lengthy ordeal.
"I felt humiliated and scared," she said. "At that point, I thought I was probably going to either get deported or detained in some place. Why else would they put handcuffs on me? And I started crying."
Elamin has lived in the United States for over 20 years. Never did she see the day when she would be labeled as a threat.
"I've been living in the U.S. since 1993," she said. "I never expected to be treated this way upon my return home."
Elamin completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard University and received a master's degree from Columbia University. She is currently studying anthropology at Stanford.
Administrators with Elamin's current school penned a statement vowing to support the student and others like her.
"We are enormously concerned about the anguish this episode caused our student and her family, and what it may suggest for others in similar situations," the statement read.
One of the other travelers, who was detained in the East African country of Djibouti and turned away from an airplane, was trying to join her parents and siblings in the Central Valley city of Los Banos, according to Katherine Lewis, the family's attorney. The 12-year-old girl from Yemen has an approved immigrant visa to the United States.
Lewis added that Trump's stance on immigration is "extraordinarily overbroad."
"It's drawing lines based on national origin and religion," she said. "It's so sweeping that it's affecting people like a 12-year-old child who is simply trying to join her U.S. citizen family in the United States."
Trump's controversial decree, which ignited protests at airports across the country, was temporarily blocked on Saturday evening by a federal judge. The stay prevents any person in possession of a valid visa being held at airports from being booted out of the country. That ruling does not necessarily mean that detainees will be released, according to officials.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previously version of this story indicated that a 12-year-old girl was detained at JFK Airport. Katherine Lewis, the family's attorney, clarified and said the girl was detained in Djibouti.