By Rashed Mian and Christopher Twarowski
Thousands descended upon John F. Kennedy International Airport and airports across the country Saturday to protest the detention of up to 200 travelers held under President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration restrictions put in place on Friday, decried as a “Muslim Ban” by civil liberties and human rights groups, political leaders and demonstrators.
At JFK in New York, up to a dozen travelers were detained, including two Iraqi men on immigrant visas.
One of the men, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, had worked as a contractor for the US government from 2003 to 2010 and had been a translator during the invasion of Iraq. Darweesh was freed hours after his detention.
The other, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, had been granted a “follow to join visa” and was traveling to Houston, where his wife and child are permanent residents, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which, along with other groups, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the two men early Saturday.
Also detained was a Stony Brook University graduate student, Vahideh Rasekhi, who’d been returning from a visit to Iran. She was expected to be released Sunday afternoon, according to a statement from US Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who also stated he supports Trump’s immigration restrictions.
Similar mass protests erupted within airports across the country and in foreign nations, where non-US citizens on student visas or green card holders—legal US residents—became ensnared in the president’s new immigration orders. In total, the ACLU estimated between 100 to 200 travelers were being detained at US airports, according to Mother Jones.
The ACLU scored a major victory late Saturday when a federal judge in Brooklyn ordered an emergency stay temporarily blocking the deportations nationwide of people prevented entry into the country. Judges in Virginia and Washington state followed suit.
“The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioner and other similarly situated violates their due process and equal protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” wrote US District Judge Ann Donnelly in the decision.
“There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations subject to the January 27, 2017, Executive Order,” it continued.
“This ruling preserves the status quo and ensures that people who have been granted permission to be in this country are not illegally removed off U.S. soil,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case, said in a statement.
“We have no doubt that the motivation behind the executive order was discriminatory,” the ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony D. Romero wrote in a blog post on the group’s website late Saturday night. “This was a Muslim ban wrapped in a paper-thin national security rationale.”
The stay “covers all those who were in transit and are being detained at airports,” according to a Tweet from ACLU of Ohio–and a court will have to decide whether to make it permanent, effectively leaving detainees in a state of legal limbo until then.
Protests continued at several major airports Sunday, in front of the White House, and in Manhattan’s Battery Park.
Trump had signed executive orders on Friday banning Syrian refugees from entering the United States, temporarily barring refugees from around the world, and restricting access to citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations. Religious minorities in those countries, such as Christians, have been granted an exception—effectively placing a religious test on entry into the country.
Despite the ensuing chaos at airports across the country and globe, and its Muslim-centric focus, Trump told reporters Saturday: “It’s not a Muslim ban… It’s working out very nicely. You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”
“We see it as a Muslim ban,” Abed Ayoub, national legal and policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told the Press earlier this week. “Effectively they’re circumventing calling it a Muslim ban by just listing the countries.
“This is what he promised during his campaign, and this is the direction they’re going,” he added.
US Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) also blasted the president’s new immigration orders
as a “Muslim Ban” on Twitter Saturday, joining protestors at Logan International Airport in support of those detained there.
#MuslimBan became a popular hashtag on the social media platform Saturday and was trending early Sunday morning, with many posters accompanying messages to friends and families of those detained with the contact information for the ACLU.
Every floor is full at JFK #MuslimBan #JFKTerminal4 pic.twitter.com/dT7UtQs6iK
— NYCLU (@NYCLU) January 28, 2017
The intense protests at airports from coast to coast, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dulles, Boston, Denver and Seattle, among others, marked yet another day of resistance to polices President Trump’s young administration has deployed, regarded by many as xenophobic. A week earlier, millions of people took to the streets of cities and towns across the country and world as part of the “Women’s March”–possibly the largest mass demonstration in US history–to protest Trump and stand up for women’s rights and a host of other causes.
Demonstrators flooded Terminal Four at JFK Airport condemning the Immigration actions Saturday afternoon, remaining there throughout the night.
From a parking garage, protesters unfurled a sign that read: “We will love & protect each other.” Others held signs as a gesture of solidarity: “No hate, no fear,” “No ban, no wall,” and “The Muslim ban is unconstitutional.”
“Let them in!” demonstrators chanted, a call for the detained travelers to be allowed entry.
Trump has made good on campaign promises to effectively limit the number of immigrants that can enter the country. On Wednesday, he signed executive orders permitting the construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico. Regarding the ban on the seven Muslim nations, Trump said the government had to “ensure we aren’t admitting into our country the very threats that our men and women are fighting overseas.”
The immediate impact of the new measures sent shockwaves across the country—and the globe.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted by telling refugees that Canadians’ doors are open.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Researchers have pointed out that over the last 40 years, there have been zero deaths at the hands of citizens of the seven countries impacted by the immigration ban, including the Cato Institute.
Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who authors annual studies on Muslim extremism, echoed those findings, and noted that of the 46 cases involving suspected terrorist plotters last year, only nine had ties to the affected nations.
“This is a dramatic and misdirected overreaction to a relatively small-scale problem,” Kurzman wrote in Huffington Post.
As protests erupted at JFK, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said: “I never thought I’d see the day when refugees, who have fled war-torn countries in search of a better life, would be turned away at our doorstep. We are a nation of bridges, not walls, and a great many of us still believe in the words ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…’
“This is not who we are, and not who we should be.”