February 3, 2017


From left, Zabihollah's family, Zabihollah of Iran and Luis Mancheno of the Immigration Justic Clinic, celebrating Zabihollah's release.

Cardozo Law School/ Yeshiva University Prevents Deportation of Syrian Woman and Four Other Detainees

Five detainees who were held at JFK International Airport this past weekend as a direct result of President Trump’s executive order can thank Professors Peter Markowitz and Lindsay Nash, and the students and faculty of Cardozo’s Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic, for their freedom.

Professors Markowitz, Nash and several members of the clinic team, spoke about their experiences Thursday, Feb. 2, in a panel discussion which highlighted their personal stories about the weekend’s events as well as a more in-depth legal look at President Trump’s recent executive order, its meaning and impacts. The clinic worked tirelessly over the course of the weekend to challenge the illegal detention of immigrants at JFK Airport. The clinic’s work was pivotal in the hearing late Saturday evening where federal Judge Ann Donnelly issued a stay, which eventually led to the release of detainees across the nation.

Professor Markowitz and the clinic sprung into action late Friday night when they first received word of people being held at the airport. Mass protests ensued at the airport on Saturday as well as at a courthouse in Brooklyn where a hearing was being held.

The IJC team described the events leading to a dramatic moment in a Brooklyn courtroom Saturday night, January 28. Clinical teaching fellow and Cardozo alumnus Jackie Pearce ‘13 was at JFK Airport, and turned the floor of Terminal 8 into a makeshift office, rapidly trying to put together documents on her laptop. When Pearce found out later in the evening that one of the detainees was being put back on a plane to return to her war-torn homeland in Syria, Pearce texted Professor Markowitz to tell him. Professor Markowitz, who was at the courthouse hearing in Brooklyn supporting the ACLU’s efforts, got the text and interrupted the hearing, notifying the judge that he had a report that detainees were starting to be put back on planes.

The judge, citing a need for more facts and more time, then issued the stay. Markowitz said he exited the courtroom to a massive crowd cheering.

“We are all immensely proud of the work they have done protecting constitutional rights for all people,” Professor Markowitz said. “But there’s a long legal road ahead.”

Student Alexandra Jarymowycz ‘18, and clinical teaching fellow Luis Mancheno were on the front lines at the airport, filing documents, conversing with family members of detainees and figuring out how to stop the clock on people being deported.

Professor Markowitz explained that there have been three immigration executive orders issued since President Trump took office: the first two relating to immigrants at the border and also in the interior of the country, the third being the one which caused the chaos at the airport, a 90-day suspension of nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. For Syrian nationals, the ban is indefinite.

Professor Markowitz said this was a historic moment, and one that he will never forget for as long as he lives. “It became clear that lawyers and activists are going to have to be working together in this,” he said. “The lawyers will play a key role, but the power is with the people and that is truly what is at the heart of our democracy.”

Initially, Professor Markowitz explained, the order seemed to apply to green card holders as well but he administration then rolled back that provision.

Pearce, who later greeted the Syrian detainee after she was released, said, “lawyers are going to be essential in this resistance. We made a difference this weekend.”

The lawsuit, Professor Nash told the audience, “challenges the executive order as a violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, among other provisions. In targeting individuals from Muslim-majority countries, the executive order discriminates on the basis of religion and national origin.”

Jarymowycz said her experience helping with the clinic was meaningful, as she met and connected with a detainee’s loved one, who was desperately trying to free his father who had come to visit him to see his new grandchild who was born four days earlier. His father had been nervous to make the trip after hearing anti-immigrant rhetoric from the new President, but his son reassured him. Jarymowycz said the man told his father, “This is America, Dad. You don’t need to worry. They don’t do that here.”