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Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Pramila Jayapal Join Airport Protests to Free People Detained Under Muslim Ban

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We speak to two Democratic members of Congress: Jerrold Nadler of New York and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. Nadler spent much of Saturday at JFK airport in New York, while Jayapal was at the protests at SeaTac airport outside of Seattle.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by two members, Democratic members of Congress: Jerrold Nadler here in New York, who spent much of Saturday at JFK International Airport trying to free some of those detained inside, and Pramila Jayapal, who was at the protest at SeaTac airport outside of Seattle.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Also, Congressman Nadler, you were yesterday at Battery Park. Well over 10,000—organizers say maybe 30,000 people gathered and marched up to Federal Plaza. Talk about your response, who’s been detained, how you got them out and what you feel needs to be done.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, we were told, when we got to—Nydia Velázquez and I went to JFK airport Saturday morning, and we were told by the lawyers there that there were two people being detained whose names we knew, who were clients of the lawyers, and 10 people whose names we didn’t know. And no one could talk to any of them. We made our presence felt and talked to the CBP people, Customs and Border Protection people, incessantly through the day. And I like to think that we had an impact in getting two of them released. One was Hameed Darweesh, who was on the—you played a little while ago. And he was a fellow who had helped American troops. He was a translator. He put his life on the line for 10 years helping the American military. And he was a target. He was a target of assassination attempts. He couldn’t go back. And for us to threaten to deport him was not only immoral and disgusting, but ridiculous. There’s a second person who was released Saturday night who was on a different kind of visa. It was an immigrant visa. And that took—I’m sorry, a refugee visa. We had to get intervention from the secretary level in Washington. And he also—his wife, who is now residing in Houston, had been—had worked with the American military, and so he was a target. So they were—so he was eventually released. But this whole thing, with all these people, was just disgusting. I mean, it’s—you know, I looked at this whole thing, and I said it was unconstitutional, illegal and dangerously stupid.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the whole issue of green card holders, as well, being drawn into this dragnet, and now the administration is saying, “Well, henceforth, from now on, that’s not going to be a problem”?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Going forward. Going forward.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Going forward. Going forward.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Yes. Well, you know, my wife teaches at Columbia in the graduate school, and there are a lot of foreign students there. And right after the election, they started telling the foreign students, “Don’t go home for winter break, because God knows what this guy is going to do, and you might be stuck abroad.” So some people didn’t do that. But the idea that people who lived in this country and work in this country, who went abroad or go abroad for a funeral or whatever, can’t get back is also disgusting. And the idea that it was done on a religious basis goes against everything this country supposedly stands for.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Seattle Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, this is your first term in Congress. You yourself are an immigrant to this country. You were at the SeaTac protests, the Seattle airport. What are you going to call for when you go back to Washington?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, we are essentially saying the same thing that Congressman Nadler said. This is inhumane and barbaric, and we want this president to rescind this executive order. You know, I was called to SeaTac at around 1:00 in the afternoon. I was there for eight hours. Same drill. We had to really force ourselves in to talk to Customs and Border Protection agents. We were able to get two people that were put on a plane and were actually at the—the plane was at the gateway ready to—ready to take off. And we had to go and essentially hold the plane. And we were finally able to get the two people off. They were finally given access to legal counsel. For a while, they were telling us they didn’t have the right to legal counsel because they were being processed. But, in fact, they were not in processing; they had already been released off the plane. And so we were finally able to get them legal counsel, and then they were released early yesterday morning.

One gentleman, though, was sent back to Somalia before we got to him. So their family members were at SeaTac airport and had been waiting, had been anticipating being reunited with their family member, and were left really wondering if there was a place for any of them in this country.

And I think it—you know, we had, I think, over a thousand people at SeaTac within the course of an hour. And last night, we had over 10,000 people here in downtown Seattle, protesters who really understand that this is not about immigration. This is about who we are as a country and what we’re willing to stand up for. And it feels familiar after 9/11 when we had to fight the Bush administration around special registration and many other things like that. But we are back at it and with a president who seems to not care about any of our institutions. And we hope that he actually does listen to the nationwide stay.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congresswoman, the issue of—the Trump administration has now tried to calm things down by releasing folks as a result of the protests, but the reports are coming from airports and embassies around the world now that the embassies, the U.S. embassies, are basically canceling all appointments of—not only of people who have already appointments set up for visas, but dual nationals, if you are, for instance, a British citizen and an Iranian citizen, or a German citizen and a Libyan citizen, that even folks who have citizenship in these other countries are being denied even the opportunity to get an interview or an application. Your sense of what this is happening—what this is doing around the world?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I think it is absolutely making us, first of all, less safe, because we are putting fodder into the hands of people who do wish to do us harm, by allowing them to essentially say that the United States hates Muslims, the United States hates immigrants. But on top of that, I think that our standing as a country has taken a deep plunge since this president was elected, certainly since he’s taken office, not only with this executive order, but his other executive orders around immigration, around building the wall. We have essentially started to cut off relationships with other countries, and we no longer are seen as a place that really is a leader in a global world that is struggling. And with 5 million Syrian refugees pouring out of Syria, for us to permanently or indefinitely ban Syrian refugees is absolutely outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to President Trump signing his executive order on immigration on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He also marked the date, which commemorates the liberation of Jews at Auschwitz, with a statement that omitted any mention of Jews. The White House said Sunday the omission was intentional. Jerrold Nadler, you discussed this when you spoke in Battery Park yesterday to the crowd of over 10,000.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Yes. To commemorate the Holocaust without mentioning Jews is to try to revise history. Yes, plenty of people who were not Jewish were murdered by the Nazis, but only the Jews were the target of an extermination attempt, to eliminate all Jews. That was the intent of the Nazis. That was the whole purpose of the Holocaust. And to try to revise history, to write the Jews out of the Holocaust, in effect, is disgusting. Now, it does go along—and we’ve seen this by far right-wing parties in Europe, and apparently the Trump administration feels an affinity for these far right-wing parties—they’re trying to de-Judaize the Holocaust, to rewrite history. And that’s, frankly, disgusting, as so many other things that this administration does.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole issue of Donald Trump, for instance, tweeting about all the Christians that are being persecuted in the Middle East, and basically ignoring the reality of how many Muslims have been dying in all these wars and all these battles?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: And he lied outright when he said that it was almost impossible for a Christian to get—to immigrate to this country from some of these countries, compared to the Muslims. The fact is that—I think the numbers are essentially equal: 38,000 Christians, 38,000 Muslims last year. And when you figure that these countries’ populations are 90, 95 percent Muslims, so that 5 percent of the population, Christian, are getting half the admissions, half the visas, they’re not being discriminated against. I will say the Christian populations in the Middle East are being persecuted in almost every country except Israel. It’s the one place where they’re not—one of the few places. I shouldn’t say “the one place.” One of the few places where they’re not. But in Egypt, you’ve got the Copts being persecuted and attacked; in other countries, too.

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