The sky was gray, a light snow fell, and the weather was bitingly cold. But the mood outside New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on Saturday was red-hot with anger, as dozens, and then hundreds, and then, as night fell, thousands arrived to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry into the United States of all refugees—including Syrian refugees, perhaps indefinitely—as well as visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The rally, organized by a coalition of groups including the New York Immigration Coalition, the Arab American Association of New York, and Make the Road New York, came together within hours. The call for a rapid-response demonstration was posted on Facebook in the morning, and word quickly spread on social media. Supporters of these groups came from across New York, traveling long distances on the subway to reach an airport not easily accessible for many.
Throughout the day, the protesters huddled in a holding pen outside Terminal 4, the part of the airport where refugees and visa-holders, turned back from the United States, were being detained. They chanted, “Love, not hate, makes America great,” and “No hate, no fear, Syrians are welcome here,” as cars driving by honked their horns in support. Inside the airport terminals, lawyers whipped out laptops to draft habeas corpus petitions to get their clients, held by Customs and Border Protection agents, out of detention. Meanwhile, Port Authority police officers milled on the perimeter, and also blocked protesters’ entrance into Terminal 4. As the crowd grew, the demonstrators eventually spilled into the parking terminal overlooking the main protest area.
The protests lasted well into the evening, and continued as a federal judge ruled to temporarily halt part of Trump’s executive order in response to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The order applies only to those who arrived in the United States with valid visas in the past 24 hours but were detained upon entry; they cannot be deported for now. While the order is temporary, it is a partial victory for civil-liberties advocates.
Trump’s order to bar refugees and many Middle Easterners, signed on the Friday afternoon of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was a stunning capstone to a stunning week that seemed designed to shock Americans into submission. But in New York, and in cities around the country, protesters poured into airports in droves, determined to help those locked inside airport detention centers who had arrived just after Trump issued the ban. Taxi drivers called for a work stoppage outside JFK. Demonstrations were held in Chicago, Boston, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities.