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Executive Order Ban Leaves Travelers In Disarray At Chicago Airport


We're turning back to the story we're covering throughout the hour, those executive actions signed yesterday by President Trump blocking residents from six countries from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days and an indefinite ban on those coming from Syria. There are scenes of protests and confusion at airports around the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

NPR's David Schaper is at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago where a handful of people are being detained under the president's new executive action. David, thanks so much for joining us.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Tell us about the scene there at O'Hare.

SCHAPER: Well, you know, where I'm sitting right now (unintelligible) is in an area where there's a bunch of pro bono attorneys who have come out to O'Hare. A lot of them practice in immigration law. And they're huddling with people who had been waiting for their sisters, their brothers, their husbands and wives, their children to get off of a plane, people who had boarded a plane not knowing that there was going to be an executive order signed prohibiting them from getting off a plane once they landed here at O'Hare.

So it's a bit of a - not a chaotic scene, but there is a lot of concern, a lot of consternation. A lot of people really anxious about not knowing if they're going to be able to see those family members they came to pick up.

MARTIN: Now, I take it you've had a chance to meet some of the people who are waiting for relatives. What are they telling you?

SCHAPER: I did. I met one gentleman who's here to pick up his sister and his brother-in-law and their new baby girl. The girl born here in the U.S. - they're both - she's a U.S. citizen. The brother and sister are both U.S. citizens. The baby, obviously, is born here - is a U.S. citizen. And her husband is a British citizen, but also originally from Iran. So they went back to Iran for a couple of weeks to introduce the new baby to the rest of the family.

They boarded a plane, you know, before 5 o'clock Central Time last night before that executive order was signed. And because he's a green card holder, he's not - he's being detained. And they just don't - they're trying to find out answers. And the anxiety on his face was really troubling. He showed me his phone, and it's just blowing up constantly with family members here in the Chicago area texting him and calling him as well as those who helped them get on the plane also concerned about whether or not they're actually going to be able to go back home to their home right here and to their jobs right here in Chicago.

MARTIN: Have customs and border officials said anything to these family members or to their attorneys?

SCHAPER: The attorneys are trying to get through, and they're talking with people. And the understanding on the ground here is that there is a waiver process, and that they're trying to help navigate their way through getting a waiver for some of the families because most of the folks here are those who have green cards, who are legal to be in the U.S. And so they're trying to navigate it.

But one customs official I talked to was kind of troubled by what was going on, too. He wouldn't give me his name, but he said it's quite a confusing situation for them and quite frustrating for what they have to deal with. They're trying to help these families get through it, but in a lot of cases, the executive order limits exactly what they can do and who they can allow to go through.

MARTIN: That's NPR's David Schaper. He's at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. David, thanks so much for joining us.

SCHAPER: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.