In first 72 hours of President Trump's travel ban, refugees, asylum seekers describe chaos, confusion

Some families were separated after President Trump issued an immediate order.

ByABC News
January 31, 2017, 2:21 PM

— -- Abdallh Khadra's 3-year-old daughter Muna has gone to bed thousands of miles away from him every night for the past three months. Her pink Barbie bed back home in North Carolina lays empty.

Khadra's fight to get Muna back took a desperate turn Friday when President Trump signed an executive order to instate an immediate travel ban on refugees and people traveling to the U.S. with visas from seven majority Muslim countries, including Syria, where Muna was born.

“We don’t believe that we cannot get her,” Khadra said. “We have to get her.”

Khadra fled his home country of Syria after speaking out against the Assad regime. He was vetted and cleared for U.S. entry in 2011 on a religious work visa, and his family joined him in 2013.

On an October trip to see family in Lebanon, Muna was the only member of his family denied entry back to the U.S., he says, because of a visa snafu. She has been living with her grandmother ever since, but on Monday, he says he was told his daughter is now “ineligible” for U.S. entry.

“This is heartbreaking, we cannot believe this happened,” he said. “What will a 3-year-old child, what threat would she pose?”

This past week alone, over 800 refugees were on their way to the U.S., according to an estimate from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The executive order by President Trump on Friday changed everything in an instant.

“This policy in regard with my family -- it’s breaking my family, it’s breaking our hearts,” Khadra said.

The order bars admission to the U.S. of all people with non-immigrant or immigrant visas from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. It also bars entry to all refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days, and places an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees.

Suddenly, people's lives were held in limbo. On Saturday, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told ABC News that 375 travelers were affected by the executive order at airports across the country.

Within that group, 109 people were in transit and then denied entry to the U.S., 173 were denied entry to the U.S. before boarding their flights in a foreign port, and 81 were granted waivers because of their legal permanent resident or special immigrant visa status.

Department of Homeland Security officials on Tuesday said that 872 refugees will be allowed to enter the U.S. this week, while defending President Trump's executive order on immigration and refugees.

A number of travelers to the U.S., including children, were detained upon landing. Some on those incoming flights were barred from entering the country at all, including Fuad Sharef Suleman, who had risked his life working with the U.S. government as a former subcontractor and had to return to Iraq despite receiving a visa to enter the country.

“I don't know what to do. Because I sold my house. I quit my job. My wife quit her job. And kids left school,” he said.

On Monday, President Trump fired acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend his immigration order after she said she was not convinced it was "lawful." In a statement, the White House said Yates "betrayed the Department of Justice" and was "weak on borders" and replaced her as acting attorney general with by Dana Boente, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Abdallh Khadra was vetted. He has been living in the U.S. for six years, coming into the U.S. as an imam on a legal religious workers visa and later applying for political asylum. He said he loves this country but doesn’t think this policy will abate terror.

“This type of decision, it will only promote hate and fear and it will not solve the problem of extremists,” he said. “Just the other day, that Canadian white man, he entered the mosque in Quebec and killed … people while they were praying … so we don’t say, ‘White men are terrorists.’ That is just foolish. That is very unjust and very unfair. This decision is very discriminatory, very unjust, very inhumane.”

Khadra was among those protesting the ban in Raleigh, North Carolina, like thousands of others around the country from New York, under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, to the gates of the White House and at several major airports.

Around the globe, just as with the Women's March demonstrations the weekend before, people in other countries joined in. A reported 10,000 anti-Trump protesters took to the streets in the United Kingdom. Outrage was also expressed in Hollywood, where several actors voiced their opposition to the executive order during their Screen Actors Guild award speeches on Sunday night.

And in a rare move, just days into a new presidency, former President Obama spoke out with some harsh words for President Trump, saying he fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.

But there is also a strong chorus of voices across the U.S. that are in support of the travel ban.

“Take care of our own first, and then take care of others,” Lou Colon of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, told WNEP. “It’s just like ... when a plane goes into a crash mode, first you have to put on your mask to help your child.”

“I think we need, first and foremost, to keep our country safe,” Valery Brussat told ABC Milwaukee affiliate WISN 12 News.

But hours after issuing the executive order, the White House began to walk back part of that sweeping edict, now saying green card holders – permanent legal residents -- will be allowed to re-enter the country.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the policy on Monday, telling reporters, “I'm sorry that some folks may have had to wait a little while, but I think the president would much rather know that he's not placing a call to someone who was killed because someone was let into this country to commit a terrorist act.”

The order grants some exceptions, giving priority to refugees from religious minorities, like Christians living in majority Muslim countries.

Nermeen Arastu, a clinical law professor and attorney, said she believes the mandate is unethical and unlawful.

“We've seen post-9/11 that in the name of security our country has allowed itself to erode many of its values,” Arastu said. “If the U.S. is now going to prioritize that they're going to take refugees that are Christian over refugees that are Muslim that in and of itself is discriminating based on religion.”

But President Trump claimed the ban had nothing to do with religion, telling reporters, “It’s not a Muslim ban, but we’re totally prepared and it’s been working out very nicely.”

The executive order unleashed a crush of bipartisan criticism, from Democratic lawmakers protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court Monday night to Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham writing in a joint statement: “It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump's executive order was not properly vetted… Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism."

President Trump fired back at them on Twitter saying, “John McCain and Lindsey Graham... should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”

The president later adding on Twitter, “If the ban was announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there.”

Today, people like Sufyan, who asked that his last name not be used, remain caught in the crossfire of this debate. He worked as a translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq and worked with the American forces for seven years, and said he risked his life every day for dangerous assignments.

“I still remember when my brother got kidnapped because they were thinking that he was me,” he said. “It is a dangerous place but it's a must.”

He got out of Iraq using a special immigration via, which allowed him to get a green card. But for now, those like him who risks their lives to help American forces or companies would not be allowed into the U.S.

Sufyan now lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and three children. His youngest daughter is an American, born in the U.S. He said the president’s executive order is difficult for him.

“Don't judge 95 percent of the good people the same as 5 percent bad people,” he said.

For Khadra, his foremost concern is the safety of his little girl, still stranded half a world away.

“For me personally, I want my daughter back,” he said.

ABC News' Ely Brown and Lauren Effron contributed to this report

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