Protesters with signs reading “Love Trumps Hate” and “America, Land of Immigrants” milled around New York’s JFK airport late Friday night. Most of the people, bundled warmly against the frosty evening, wandered about with their families in tow. Mark Abrahams, of New York City, had both of his young daughters with him, saying, “I want them to see what happens when people stand up to injustice and embrace diversity and people of other cultures.” He held a bundle of white daisies, which he was helping his daughters hand out to the other protestors.
Last Friday, President Trump signed an executive order regarding the immigration of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen. Dubbed the ‘Muslim Ban’ but critics, it is still unclear exactly what the implementation of this EO will look like. There is conflicting information coming from the White House, but the EO seems to also include permanent residents of the United States (people who hold green cards) who are citizens of these countries who are currently traveling outside of the United States; permanent residents from those countries who wish to leave the country will have to meet with a consular officer. The EO also ends all refugee resettlement for 120 days, and ends all entrance by Syrian refugees without any indication of when the policy will reverse.
The atmosphere at the airport was chaotic, with a palpable tension underlying the smiles shared by protestors. Many of the people who showed up to the airport were directly impacted by the United States’ previously generous immigration and refugee policy – many had come here as refugees or were second generation immigrants.
One such person, Samir Hekmati, spoke of the EO as a personal tragedy. He said, “I came here when I was seven as a refugee. The United States is my home, I am a citizen now, but my parents were supposed to come here in February and now they cannot. They are still in Iraq. Next week is their anniversary and I was supposed to go visit, but now I can’t leave because I’m scared I won’t be allowed back in.” He added in an almost whisper, “I don’t know what will happen to them now, because the whole town knows they want to leave, that they want to come to the West. Some people frown on that where I’m from; we’re not supposed to want to leave.” He says he’s scared something bad will happen to them, but there’s no way out.
The new executive order is set to affect about 90,000 people, many of whom are permanent residents of the United States or have current and legal visas to enter the country. According to The Guardian, airports around the world, including in Europe and North Africa, reported visa-holders and dual-citizens were blocked from boarding flights to the United States. Because of the unclear status facing people who had visas, green cards or dual citizenships, airport officials took cautious routes and barred the customers from boarding the flights at all. Posts of Facebook abounded of students on holiday not being allowed back into their own country and young adults visiting their grandparents being stuck in airports with no clarification on their future status in the only home they’ve ever known.
The ban has faced intense and public backlash from major companies in the United States, foreign governments, celebrities and a large swath of the U.S. population. Tech companies especially have been vocal about the ban because of the high number of immigrants hired into the tech industry in the United States.
Fears that this is only a first step in a process of a complete Muslim ban have been vocalized by community leaders and people concerned that the new President might follow through on every campaign promise he made, including a ban and registry of Muslims coming into and already residing in the United States. A ban of this type would almost certainly be struck down by the Courts. This ban faced intense legal scrutiny, but may only be part of an upcoming slew of EOs designed to bar Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the country.