At an impromptu press conference at the Omni Dallas, Rawlings said he was “deeply distressed” at the ongoing situation at the airport, where 50 travelers became detainees that day. “This is just not good for our city,” he said. “It’s not good for our state. This is a welcoming place. We want you here.”
On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed an executive order blocking entry into the U.S. for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also banned all refugees from entering the country for 120 days and banned all Syrian refugees indefinitely. The order also applied to legal green card holders who may have been out of the country or on inbound planes when the order when signed.
According to the mayor, two flights were primarily affected, an inbound Emirates and an inbound Qatar Airways flight. Rawlings is on the DFW airport board and has been in touch with DFW CEO Sean Donohue since the afternoon.
“Many people detained are still at DFW,” Rawlings said. “We don’t know the specific demographics or countries or the purposes of these individuals.” He believed all of them were traveling to Dallas for business or to visit family members; he did not believe any of them were refugees. He said the travelers, some elderly and children, were told they would not be allowed in the U.S. and would be put back on flights to their country of origin on Sunday.
“I have been assured that DFW Airport is doing everything it is allowed to do to make sure that those individuals are being taken care of,” Rawlings said. The airport was providing cots, food and water to the detained. “We anticipate that this issue of the travelers being detained at the airport will diminish in the coming days. I think these individuals and the airlines got caught up in the quickness of this. There was no warning.”
Saturday morning, travelers meeting those criteria were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and told they would not be allowed in the U.S. This caused confusion at airports including DFW, and sparked protests across the country. One such protest was taking place at DFW’s Terminal D as Rawlings gave his press conference.
Our airport police and entire staff would like to thank all protestors for exercising your rights in a peaceful manner. pic.twitter.com/ltyg1VaQOV— DFW Airport (@DFWAirport) January 29, 2017
“The president’s executive action purports to be a response to national security, that we are not safe,” Rawlings said. “That is not true. We have been very safe in the Dallas area for the past couple of years. In fact, 800,000 refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since 9/11; none of them has committed an act of terrorism on U.S. soil.”
Rawlings says he has worked closely with refugee resettlement organizations in Dallas and is convinced that “these individuals are going to be good members of our community.” In fact, the reason he was at the Omni on Saturday night was to attend the Catholic Charities’ 19th Annual Bishop’s Gala. Proceeds from the gala were to go toward local refugee programs, which Rawlings called “ironic.”
“On a personal note, I am a Christian and a Christ follower,” Rawlings said. “This is not what the gospel preaches. We as people are defined not by how we treat ourselves, but how we treat the other. Today is a great failing in America in that regards.”
Rawlings was also concerned about damaging relationships with the Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates. “If I was a business person on that trip and I just was told to go home, do you think I’m going to come and invest money and do business here? I don’t think so,” he said. “From a business standpoint we are doing everything we can to become an international business center. And this move sends a clear signal: Not so fast, we don’t want to have your business. And that is concerning to me.”
Rawlings had not yet spoken with Texas legislators as of his press conference, but said he would call Rep. Pete Sessions on Sunday. He ended his press conference with a personal message to those being detained: “On behalf of the citizens of Dallas, we’re sorry. We’re not that way.”
Update: On Sunday around 2 p.m., DFW International said that Customs and Border Protection released those detained at DFW International. Rawlings said he would meet with the travelers and their families away from the airport.
Mayor @Mike_Rawlings informs us he will meet with the travelers and their families at the offsite location.— DFW Airport (@DFWAirport) January 29, 2017