PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – Federal authorities acting in compliance with President Trump’s order targeting immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries detained seven people with ties to Syria for more than six hours Sunday at Port Canaveral, according to one of the attorneys who worked to secure their release.
The detainees, including a woman from Syria with a green card and her three U.S.-born children, were placed in custody without warning and underwent extensive background checks after they stepped off of a Royal Caribbean cruise, said Ruth Singer, a Suntree-based criminal law attorney who was part of a team of attorneys involved in the case, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
The seven people were not Muslim, but Jewish.
“In fact, one of the gentlemen said, 'It’s a good thing we were Jewish’ before leaving. They were a little concerned about speaking out about what happened,” Singer said.
Federal authorities at the port "held them for 6½ hours in a room," Singer said. "She was able to contact her husband by phone. They certainly wouldn’t let us see them. As a matter of fact, they never gave us an explanation as to why they were detained and even rolled up the metal shutter."
The president’s executive order, issued Friday, banned all refugees and immigrants from seven select nations with predominantly Muslim populations. Dozens were detained across the nation, according to widespread news reports.
There was also initial confusion from federal authorities about those with valid green cards, but the Trump administration eased restrictions as federal judges stepped in to block portions of the president’s executive order. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus,suggested on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that federal agents had discretionary authority in the screenings.
“I think, at the very least, what’s going on right now seems to me to be a prima facie case of due process; they weren’t given any warning, they were told they would not be allowed to go home. It seems on its face to be unconstitutional,” Singer said.
In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union began to contact attorneys across the state in anticipation of detention issues as a result of the order. Singer was one of several attorneys who was contacted Sunday morning.
Singer and the others went to the port and asked to see the detainees. The Syrian woman, who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, and her children, along with others, simply walked out without any explanations.
“They said they were all treated well and were given food and drinks. They were told generically that their paperwork was being reviewed,” Singer said.
“The authorities never spoke to us and never gave us an explanation.”
Port Canaveral authorities did not return calls seeking comment about the issue.