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Protesters defend Muslims and refugees at airports nationwide

Thousands took to city streets and airport arrival halls over the weekend following Donald Trump’s executive order barring all citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also blocks entrance to all refugees for the next 120 days, and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Friday’s order brought swift response from a diverse array of allies, from immigrant rights and refugee relief organizations to religious communities and labor unions across the country. On Saturday, reports emerged that dozens of individuals and families were being held at airports from Los Angeles to New York City, sparking spontaneous demonstrations at over 30 terminals nationwide. Protesters arrived chanting “Let them in!” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!” The crowds, like the Women’s March on Washington, was populated by both long-standing organizers and hundreds of “first-time” activists who have been galvanized since the election. “I was never politically active before,” said Katie, a mother of two, outside JFK, “but I cannot sit back anymore.”

Lawyers set up ad-hoc legal clinics in many arrival halls over the weekend, creating a spontaneous network of support to handle individual cases of detainees. Meanwhile, other activists and legal experts brought the issue to the courts. Late Saturday night, Brooklyn federal judge Ann Donnelly issued a temporary stay on deportations nationwide, while Leonie Brinkema, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, issued a temporary restraining order on U.S. officials who were blocking legal counsel from accessing detainees.

The momentum continued on Sunday in many cities and airports, as thousands remained camped out at airport terminals or rallied in city streets. Over 10,000 gathered in an emergency rally in New York City’s Battery Park, where crowds could glimpse the Statue of Liberty as they listened to rousing speeches from political leaders, immigration advocates, Arab activists and labor organizers, among others. In Washington, D.C., crowds protested outside the White House, while several thousand gathered outside Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport. In Los Angeles, protesters shut down the roads into LAX airport, resulting in several arrests and an eventual deal, brokered between organizers and law enforcement, to allow intermittent access to the airport.

On the legal side, many detainees are entering their second or third day in limbo at airports including JFK and LAX. Lawyers report confusion and lack of transparency in many of their dealings with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, while others are raising allegations that some CBP officials are acting in outright defiance of court orders. Attorneys in numerous airports have vowed to stay at their make-shift clinics indefinitely, organizing volunteer shifts to ensure round-the-clock legal counsel and translation services. The lawyers also invite people who have loved ones traveling to the United States who may be affected by Trump’s order to alert their legal team ahead of time so they can better prepare to handle any possible difficulties.

Late Sunday night, the White House seemed to be walking back part of Trump’s order when Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced that the ban would not affect the thousands of legal residents (green card holders) from the targeted countries. This contradicts statements by other officials, however, and the situation remains unclear.

Reports continue of Muslim travelers being turned away at airports from London to Addis Ababa, while a number of individuals remain in limbo at American terminals. Going forward, legal activists, immigration advocates, and their allies plan to continue targeted resistance. “We are not outnumbered,” admonished Linda Sarsour at New York’s rally on Sunday, “But we’ve been out-organized.” Across the country, thousands are working to change that. Over 150 local campaigns have launched to call to mayors across the country to affirm or expand commitments to sanctuary cities.

Sixteen Democratic state attorneys general have issued a joint statement calling Trump’s move “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful” and vowing to fight it in court, while Democratic House and Senate leaders are calling for a protest outside the Supreme Court for 6 p.m. Monday. Many have noted that Trump’s order was issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day, an irony that was not lost on the activists and allies. “We’ve been here before,” read one sign held by a Jewish activist in New York, “Never again.”

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