The uprising at US airports

February 2, 2017
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, January 28.

It did not take Donald Trump long to begin the war on immigrants, refugees and Muslims that he promised during his presidential campaign.

On January 27, he signed an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for at least 90 days and suspending the admission ofallrefugees from any country for at least four months, among other measures.

It also did not take long for many thousands of people to send a loud message in response: No ban, no wall, let them in!

They mobilised for hastily called emergency protests at airports from New York City to San Francisco and many cities in between. Crowds of people descended on airports the very evening that Trump issued his order, and they continued their protests into the night and the next day, with chants like “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!” ringing out.

Trump’s order, called the “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, prohibits people from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia from entering the US, whether or not they had legal visas. The Trump administration says it adopted the list from Obama administration actions in the “war on terror”.

For Sahar Algonaimi, a Syrian national who was traveling to Chicago to visit her mother who is sick with cancer, this meant she was detained for five hours at O’Hare International Airport — and had to return to her home in Saudi Arabia without seeing her family.

The 60-year-old had a visa and a signed letter from a surgeon to immigration officials explaining that Algonaimi was “needed to assist” in the care of her sick 76-year-old mother. But that wasn’t enough for US Customs officials. The order Trump signed bans Syrian refugees from coming to the US indefinitely.

One of the first people detained, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was an Iraqi interpreter who served the US military for more than a decade during the occupation. Another victim was Samira Asgari, an Iranian scientist coming to Harvard Medical School to work on a cure for tuberculosis.

All this came just days after Trump signed another executive order ordering the Department of Homeland Security to start building a wall on the border with Mexico and to revive old programs for persecuting undocumented immigrants who committed no crime but to seek safety and economic security in the US.

When visa holders arrived at airports in the US after Trump’s order, they faced chaos and confusion. But they were also met by protests showing solidarity.

At New York City’s JFK Airport, where Homeland Security officials detained 109 people, about 3000 people clogged the area in front of the terminal for international arrivals.

Rita, who is Palestinian and a New York City public school teacher, explained: “A friend of a relative of mine is getting married. His bride is from Syria, and she’s been detained inside. She had all her paperwork and came for the wedding, but they've stopped her…

“I love when I see people together. I’m Palestinian so I grew up with protests like this. I know the importance of it and the change it can make. Sometimes protest is the only way for people to be heard.”

The Taxi Workers Alliance called a one-hour boycott of JFK airport pickups on January 29, explaining: “Our 19,000 member-strong union stands firmly opposed to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

“As an organisation whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that's almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defence of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban.”

In New York City, tens of thousands of people streamed downtown for another hastily organised protest of the Trump executive hate crimes.

The protest was similar to the huge outpouring for the women’s marches — many of the people who came downtown had never protested before, but were committed now to show their opposition to Trump. Almost all the signs declaring solidarity with refugees and immigrants were homemade.

A few days earlier, after Trump signed his hateful action about constructing the wall on the US-Mexico border, in New York City about 4000 people poured into Washington Square Park on January 26 in a protest called the night before by the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

There was a palpable feeling of urgency. Walter Cooper, an activist with the Service Employees International Union 32BJ, told the crowd: "We are a union of women, of immigrants and we are a union of Muslims. We will use our collective power in the days and months ahead to fight for a better future for all of our families, prevent deportations and protect immigrants, Muslims and refugees.”

The story was similar in many other cities. In Chicago, thousands filled the International Terminal parking lot to capacity after the Arab American Action Network called an emergency protest on January 28. Several thousand people spilled outside, blocking all traffic.

At the San Francisco International Airport, more than 1000 people came to a demonstration organised by a local coalition that included the Arab Resource and Organising Centre and Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, working together as Bay Resistance.

There were about 1000 people at Logan International Airport in Boston, filling the space in front of US Customs and Border Protection. At Los Angeles International Airport, hundreds of people marched through the international terminal, in a protest called on Facebook by the Service Employees International Union.

At Dulles Airport near Washington, DC, a multiracial crowd of hundreds, many of whom had never attended a protest before, chanted into the early morning hours, vowing to return if needed. Hundreds also protested for three hours at the international terminal of the San Diego International Airport.

After several hours of protest that spread from airport to airport on January 28, there was good news — a federal judge in New York announced a stay for visa holders who were stranded in airport detention.

The stay was limited to those detained that night, and the future is unclear. But the reason that a judge took action against a presidential executive order was clear: thousands of people chose solidarity instead of hate and put their ideas into action.

When the news spread, protesters still in the airports broke out in cheers. In Chicago, the chant was: “When we fight, we can win!”

[Abridged from US Socialist Worker.]

Sudanese Stanford PhD student speaks to Democracy Now! after being detained at JFK:

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