Protests erupt at U.S. airports after refugees detained

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Hundreds of protesters gathered at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday to demonstrate the detainment of 12 people after President Trump issued an executive order on Friday. Photo By Micheal D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

Hundreds of protesters gathered at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Sunday to demonstrate the detainment of 12 people after President Trump issued an executive order on Friday. Photo By Micheal D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

Several hundred protesters congregated at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday to demonstrate against President Donald Trump’s executive order to halt immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. and indefinitely ban Syrian refugees.

The crowd of protesters grew throughout the afternoon after The New York Times reported that people were detained at the airport upon their arrival to the U.S. after the order was issued. One of the detainees, Hameed Khalid Darweesh of Iraq, received a waiver to enter the country on Saturday.

Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement for the advocacy group New York Immigration Coalition, told the NewsHour that he decided to issue a call-out on social media for protesters to meet at JFK’s Terminal 4 after the news first broke Friday night that at least two individuals were being held there.

By Saturday morning, reports said that 12 people were being held by federal authorities, though Awawdeh remained optimistic.

“Apparently it’s working because one person was already released,” Awawdeh said of the demonstration early Saturday afternoon, also noting that he was receiving updates from attorneys who were working to release the rest of the detainees. “When all the people get out we’ll leave.”

More than a dozen protests against the president’s executive order were also planned or underway on Saturday across the country in Miami, Dallas, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, Houston and other cities. Other protests were planned for Sunday.

Trump signed an executive order on Friday afternoon that bans all refugees and visa holders from seven countries from entering the U.S for 90 days and suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. The order affects citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Syrian refugees, who have fled the war-torn country by the millions after a nearly six-year civil war, are banned for an indeterminate amount of time.

One Iraqi man who was detained was later given a waiver to enter the United States. Photo By Micheal D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

One Iraqi man who was detained was later given a waiver to enter the United States. Photo By Micheal D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

The demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans throughout the day. One of the protesters, Thomas Beard, 32, a curator living in New York City, said it was “the Muslim ban” that drew him out in frigid temperatures to demonstrate.

“It’s completely unconscionable and I wanted to add my voice to the dissent,” he said of the president’s executive order, also noting he attended inauguration protests and the Women’s March last week in Washington, D.C.

Amir Bar-Lav, a 44-year-old documentary filmmaker, was attending the demonstration with his wife and three children.

“Anyone who believes in the Constitution should be here,” he said. “I am the son of an immigrant. My kids are the great-grand children of refugees.”

Estelle Davis, 39, of New York City, said she decided to attend the demonstration because she believes in the ideals of the U.S. Constitution and was upset that some of the individuals who may be banned from entry into the U.S. had helped the U.S. military during the war in Iraq.

“The first law in the U.S. is you cannot discriminate against religion,” she said. “I believe in this country, I believe in the ideals that this country stands for.”

The protest began to grow after an immigrant advocacy group put a call-out for demonstrators on social media. Photo By Micheal D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

The protest began to grow after an immigrant advocacy group put a call-out for demonstrators on social media. Photo By Micheal D. Regan/PBS NewsHour

Emily Gadd, 45, who works in Manhattan, said the decision to ban immigrants and refugees from certain countries following a week of contentious decision by Trump “has reach a level of absurdity.”

“We cannot shut our doors,” she said. “All of our elected officials know this illegal. This is the essence of our country.”

Zak Foster, 36, a public school teacher in Brooklyn, said the parents of some of the students he teaches entered the country illegally and might be threatened by some of the policies Trump has proposed.

“What brought me here today is thinking about my students,” he said. “Some who are undocumented.”

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