(Produced by Nadeem Shad / NY City Lens)
Protesters swarmed John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday evening after an executive order from the president banning citizens from seven countries, where Muslims are a majority, resulted in detentions at the airport.
Hundreds of people joined the impromptu demonstration to protest the executive order on immigration and the detainment of several travelers including refugees, visa holders, and green card holders, keeping them from entering New York. Many called it a #MuslimBan as travelers from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen were detained for hours. At least nine people were detained, according to press reports.
One of the detainees, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a translator who worked for the U.S. government in Iraq, was released in late afternoon. The ACLU. filed an emergency motion on behalf of Darweesh at a federal court in Brooklyn. And later in the evening a Brooklyn federal judge issued a ruling that blocked the president’s order.
Gohar Ayub, a naturalized citizen from Pakistan, said he was outraged over the executive order. “I’m here to support Muslims. I’m here to show American values,” said the 52-year-old business analyst. Though Pakistan is not on the list of banned countries, Ayub said he came to show solidarity. Ayub, who said he had not attended an anti-Trump rally before, met several of his Muslim neighbors from Valley Stream, Long Island at the protest.They were concerned that more countries with large Muslim populations will be added on the list.
Protesters started arriving as early as 11 a.m. However, large crowds began amassing after 5 p.m. outside the arrivals section of Terminal 4. First consigned to the car park along with journalists from local ABC and CBS affiliates, people quickly filled up the multi-story garage, the traffic island and the sidewalk immediately outside the terminal’s arrivals exit.
Many of the demonstrators echoed the same sentiment: it was time to stand up for what they believed in. “[By being here], it means civil rights, and that the constitution is being violated. This is a country of immigrants, and we need to support one another,” said Penelope Dow, a 53-year-old social worker from Harlem. “It’s outrageous that people’s rights are being violated. This is supposed to be the land of the, quote unquote, free.”
More than a dozen protesters interviewed said they found out about the demonstration on social media. While the Port Authority police kept protesters from entering the terminal, the crowd continued to grow after dark, despite temperatures in the low 30s. Many of the protesters interviewed insisted the ban is discriminatory.
The police armed with wooden batons and riot gear guarded the entrance back into the terminal and slowly began pushing protestors away from any doors leading into the airport as they chanted ‘No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!” Others chanted , “Let them in.” The chanting went on for hours.
“It’s hard to protest at an airport [and] avoid getting into a legal pickle,” said Claire Odom, another protester. She was referring to the increased likelihood of being charged with a felony.
Worried about exactly the same thing, the New York Immigration Coalition in a safety message warned non-citizens concerned about their status to sit this protest out.
Besides New York Immigration Coalition, the Arab American Association of New York, DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving, African Communities Together, and Make the Road New York also endorsed and supported the protest.
Around 20 to 25 Immigration lawyers crowded around the Central Diner and other rest spots at the terminal waiting to hear back from colleagues or airport authorities about updates on the number of detained passengers. Lara Finkbeiner, a deputy legal aide at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said that President Trump’s executive order denied passengers in transit in the air or at the terminal from being let into the United States from countries facing the immigration ban. But, green card holders, immigrants with visas, and students on visa were some of the first to be affected by the ban. “There is no number at present. There are dozens detained at JFK. And, many more around the country,” she said. Protests also occurred at various airports around the country, including in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Police and airport security blocked access to the JFK AirTrain from Jamaica Station at around 6:30 p.m. to stem the influx of protesters from getting to Terminal 4. Authorities were asking passengers to find alternative transportation to their terminals.
“It’s out of control at Jamaica station,” said Clifford Allen, a protester held at the station. In a news release at 8 p.m., Gov. Andrew Cuomo reversed the decision. “The people of New York will have their voices heard.”
Even taxi dispatchers on the ground joined the protest and were no longer directing passengers to yellow cabs. The Taxi and Limousine Commission was not able to pick up passengers from 8 p.m. onwards until the protesters had cleared away or been pushed back.
“Protesters slowed down traffic in the taxi lane a little, but that’s it,” says Bibi Siewnerine, 45, a taxi dispatcher. “I did not vote for Trump either, but this is crazy. And, I think it’s going to get worse.”
By 7:40 p.m. police began to move people out of the terminal and formed barricades indoors and outdoors to direct and then block the protesters from entering Terminal 4. Police blocked the terminal off to people aside from those with a boarding pass around 8 p.m. They formed a circle around the entrances with riot gear on and billy clubs in hand. Even immigration lawyers were no longer being let in.
Amidst all the chaos was Roopesh Ramjit, an immigrant from Berbice, Guyana. The 26-year-old came to the United States at the age of eight and currently works in the Office of Labor Relations for the Office of the Mayor of New York City.
“What Donald Trump is doing here today is blatantly wrong. We should allow everyone that is coming through those doors from our airport a fair chance,” he said. “People are coming into the United States to start a life, to rebuild and we are seeing refugees coming from Syria looking for hope and when they arrive at JFK they are being detained.”
Gesturing at the growing crowd behind him he said, “President Trump it’s time for you to wake up and listen to the American people.”
Standing at the back of the crowd, Park Slope-resident Marie Edesess, a social worker, and her 11-year-old daughter Francesca said they came to remind people that this is a country founded by immigrants. “It’s hateful, bigotry and an abuse of government power,” said Edessess, who is of Polish and Italian descent, and remembers her grandparents telling her the story of their arrival at Ellis Island.
Her daughter held up a cardboard sign with lines from Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” It read: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” “We have to show our resistance,” said Franceca. “We are not giving up for the next four years.”
Note: This story was updated with more reporting on January 29, 4 p.m.