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Protesters deluge New York's JFK airport to support refugees amid ban

'Being a refugee is not a decision you make. For me freedom is most important, more important than food and air'
Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at John F Kennedy International airport to protest the Trump ban (MEE/Zainab Sultan )

NEW YORK, United States - A federal judge in New York has temporarily blocked President Trump’s executive order and allowed scores of passengers who were held up in airports across the country despite having valid visas to enter the US.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) won the lawsuit late Saturday after filing it on behalf of people detained at US airports and threatened with deportation.

“Clearly the judge understood the possibility for irreparable harm to hundreds of immigrants and lawful visitors to this country,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D Romero. “Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders.”

Still, many Americans were appalled as they woke up to the news of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people travelling from seven Muslim majority countries, at least for another 90 days.

Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at John F Kennedy International (JFK) airport to protest the temporary ban against people from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, and there were similar demonstrations at most major airports across America.

Protesters at JFK airport call for an end to the ban (MEE/Zainab Sultan)
Protesters at JFK airport call for an end to the ban (MEE/Zainab Sultan)

Omar al-Muqdad is a Syrian journalist and documentary filmmaker who studied political science and international relations at the University of Damascus. He was imprisoned for two years for speaking out critically against the Syrian Assad government and moved to America in 2012. He received his green card a year later and plans to apply for citizenship next month. He currently lives in Washington DC.

“I have a cousin who has been living in a refugee camp in Jordan with his three children for the last five years and was supposed to come here, but it is impossible now,” he said, adding that “it is really hard when you are targeted all the time because of your religious background or where you come from, not just physically but emotionally as well.

“Being a refugee is not a decision you make,” Muqadad told MEE. “For me, freedom is most important, more important than food and air.”

Sacha Amry works with people with disabilities and was at JFK with his friends to protest against Trump’s executive order.

"I am a Muslim from Indonesia, so this affects me at many levels,” said Amry, who holds a green card, or permanent residency in US. “This country was founded by immigrants and openness and this past week the president has annihilated everything this country represents.”

Protesters chanted, “Let them in” and “No hate, no fear; refugees are welcome here” amid heavy police presence. MEE witnessed many protesters being stopped from entering the JFK area by authorities citing security concerns.

“We are trying to get into JFK to join others in protest but the police has blocked the entrance,” said one. “They are only trying to make it difficult for us to get in but this won’t stop us.”

Many demonstrators told MEE that they wanted to get the message out to the rest of the world that not all Americans support such actions.

“As the granddaughter of immigrant and refugees, I’m standing here for refugee rights and will never let the atrocities of the past be repeated again in our name,” said New York resident Molly Goldmen.

“We just observed holocaust remembrance day and I don’t see how a Jewish person can look at themselves in the mirror and allow any other religious group or colour group to have this ever happen to them,” said Lauren Gottleb, a Jew and a mother of two children.

Many religious and ethnic groups joined together to oppose Trump’s ban and pledged to continue fighting until the order is overturned.

“With one broad stoke, he has slammed the door on tens of thousands of innocents fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in our country,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

“This heartless act is not based on security concerns, since those applying for refugee status already go through a rigorous vetting process. Rather, it is based on fear and prejudice and is a stain on our nation's honour.”

Jeremy Swick, a corporate immigration counsel based in Detroit, Michigan, home to one of the largest and diverse Arab American Muslim communities said: “I think the order was rushed and Trump was trying to make a political statement."

He added: “There is a lot of uncertainty around it and the order itself acknowledges it as they have 90 days to continually change it. There are opportunities that it could go either way - where it is expanded to cover more countries or the backlash pushes them to change it.”

Dr Anas Abdul Kayoum is a second-year pediatric resident at a hospital in Queens, New York. Kayoum, a Syrian national, has been travelling around the US interviewing for a fellowship in cardiology, but isn’t sure what the future holds for him.

“Due to the recent developments, many hospitals are now refusing to accept doctors for fellowship positions from those countries, because they don’t want to struggle later with visas, he said.

“I haven’t seen my family in more than a year now, and things are only getting difficult with the new order. My situation is far better than so many others, but what about those who are seeking resettlement and have been working with the UN agencies for years,” Kayoum said. “This was their only hope and they were dreaming of a better future but with this order, their dreams are all gone.”