As more and more reports began to surface of travelers from Muslim-majority nations being detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport last Saturday, immigrant advocacy groups and other activists took to social media to urge their followers to descend upon the scene.
— MaketheRoadNewYork (@MaketheRoadNY) January 28, 2017
Before long, hundreds poured into JFK. As the day progressed and more reports surfaced of people who had already been approved to enter the United States or possessed valid green cards being denied entry, demonstrators by the thousands converged.
Similar scenes played out at airports across the nation—Virginia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere.
The demonstrations were in response, yet again, to one of President Donald Trump’s executive actions—a week earlier, millions had taken to the streets in cities and towns across country as part of the “Women’s March,” possibly the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history, to, among other messages, stress that “women’s rights are human rights.” On Friday, Jan. 27, Trump signed orders temporarily halting refugee resettlement, indefinitely blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States, and suspending immigration from seven majority-Muslim nations. Muslim advocacy groups and human rights organizations interpreted the travel restrictions as Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban” taking shape.
The travel ban not only stopped those with valid immigration visas, but also legal U.S. residents holding green cards. Hundreds were reportedly marooned inside airports, unclear if they would be able to see their families nervously waiting to greet them or be sent back from where they came. In a disturbing twist, reports also emerged of border officers defying a court order from a federal judge in Brooklyn that Saturday halting the deportation of those who’d been detained.
As confusion took hold inside the airports, masses huddled outside hurled chants—“Let them in!”—and served as a beacon of hope for those trapped. If America’s allure as a “shining city upon a hill”—as President Ronald Reagan, evoking Puritan Massachusetts colonial governor John Winthrop’s vision, described it in his 1989 Farewell Address—appeared to be eroding, the bundled bodies waving and chanting did what the Statue of Liberty, at that moment, could not—extend an open arm, all at once.
One Long Island man wiggling this way through a crowd at a Florida airport with his child in tow was reduced to tears, he told the Press. When he was 8, his parents had decided to leave Iran for the promise of a decent life in America. Now, he’s a lawyer helping immigrants also in search of a more fulfilling life.
Back at JFK, a Muslim family from Valley Stream unloaded 40 or so pizza pies to feed protesters who had been chanting and waving signs since the early hours last Saturday.
Another man named Sam, a PhD student at Stony Brook University who asked the Press not use his last name, drove into Manhattan last Sunday and found himself immersed in a sea of people marching through the city streets—a city, ironically, of immigrants. Thousands of demonstrators had amassed in Battery Park that day to protest Trump’s immigration policies. Unsure whether protesters would still be at JFK, he decided to make the trip, anyway, but this time he wasn’t alone. Along for the ride were three Muslim women on student visas he’d met at the march.
Four days later, Sam was back at it again. Standing outside U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office in Melville, he joined about 100 other Long Islanders imploring Schumer to resist Trump’s policies, many of which protesters contend are draconian, xenophobic, and utterly and un-mistakenly un-American.
“This is totally beyond the pale what is acceptable in a democratic, open society,” Sam told the Press.
This Friday, a week to the day that Trump signed the orders, hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside Rep. Peter King’s Massapequa Park office. Many were chagrined to hear King reportedly played a role in designing the travel restrictions—assertions the Republican congressman denies.
In bone-chilling temperatures, a carousel of protesters let King have it.
“No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!” they yelled into the cold, bitter dusk.
As they swirled and bellowed inside police barricades, drivers honked—at times in solidarity, other times to drown out their chants. Passersby waved middle fingers, mocked them as “losers,” “cry babies” and “pieces of shit.” Meanwhile, a determined group of Trump supporters defended the president’s actions. The president, they objected, is simply trying to protect Americans. A wall was coming, too. And refugees, well, they said, needed to be more stringently vetted.
“Keep us safe!” they shouted.
About a dozen Nassau County police officers stood stone-faced as the demonstration peacefully carried on.
“Peter King has always been a demagogue, and now that Donald Trump has been elected, King has the space to be even more divisive,” Anthony Zenkus, a social worker and adjunct professor at Adelphi University, told the Press. “I think Long Islanders are standing up in very big numbers saying this is unacceptable. He really has a duty to represent all of his constituents, not just some of them.”
Zenkus said he was opposed to Obama’s “seven wars” and jabbed former President Obama and Hillary Clinton for contributing to the refugee crisis.
“But what’s even just as inhumane is Donald Trump slamming the door on them,” he said. “America needs to be accountable. We need to let these people in.”
Borrowing a common refrain from the protesters was Abdul Sumat, shouting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”
“This government is out of line; they have no plan, no coordination. They just want to implement these ridiculous campaign promises,” Sumat added. “You are the president of every American and you have to act like one. He’s not acting like a president of everyone. He’s biased, he’s racist…and he’s unfit to be president of this great democratic country on this earth.”
Amy Nowacoski, 43, a social media marketing expert from Amityville said it was King’s duty to listen to his constituents, many of whom complained he was ignoring their calls.
“America was founded on the principles of religious freedom, the freedom to worship, the freedom to speak, the freedom to live your life the way you choose,” she told the Press. “That concept of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is under attack right now. And it’s under attack legislatively. Our elected representatives need to know that is not the will of people, there is no mandate.”
Protesters cleared out around 6 p.m. Hours later, a judge in Seattle temporarily blocked Trump’s travel ban. Those previously restricted to board planes bound for the United States, could do so again, the government told airlines.
Soon after the decision came down, the White House released a statement saying it would seek an emergency stay on the judge’s order.
To be continued.
Featured Art: Demonstrators rallied outside U.S. Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s Melville office Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, calling on him to stand up to President Trump. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)
—With Christopher Twarowski