Protests have erupted outside of New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport after two Iraqi refugees were detained Saturday morning in accordance with President Trump’s ban on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries. The spontaneous nature of the protest was evident in the many makeshift signs, some of which called for “no ban, no wall,” and others that read “refugees welcome.”
"We're here to tell Trump that we are not going anywhere," Jacki Esposito, the lawyer and refugee advocate who helped organize the protest told NBC News outside the airport’s international arrivals area in Terminal 4.
Word of the protest spread like wildfire across social media. By Saturday afternoon, hundreds of demonstrators had gathered, many of whom were chanting "no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!" and “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!" Al Jazeera reports.
One of the detainees, Hameed Khalid Darweesh—a former interpreter for the U.S. army during the Iraq war—was released Saturday afternoon. “America is the land of freedom,” he told reporters after his release. “America is the greatest nation.” The other detainee, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq, has yet to be released.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already filed a lawsuit on behalf of both men, in what might be the first of many legal actions taken against Trump’s ban. “President Trump's war on equality is already taking a terrible human toll,” ACLU president Omar Jadwat said in a statement. “This ban cannot be allowed to continue.”
U.S. representatives Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez released a joint statement after they met with Customs and Border Patrol supervisors and helped secure Darweesh’s release.
“Today, we saw in real human terms the damage and the absurdity of Trump’s policies. The president’s executive order is mean-spirited, ill-conceived, and ill-advised,” the statement reads. “The order almost banned a man from entering the country who has worked for the United States government for 10 years, who risked his life to help us and to help our troops, and who loves our country. Thankfully, we did not sit idly by. We took action. We demanded his release, and the release of the others who are being unlawfully detained. We are pleased to announce that Hameed Khalid Darweesh has been released and can now be reunited with his family.”
“This should not happen in America,” it continues. “We shouldn’t have to demand the release of refugees one by one. We must fight this executive order in the streets, in the courts, anywhere, anytime. We must resist. We must fight. We must keep working to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Trump’s wildly controversial executive order has sparked outrage both at home and abroad, as public officials, human rights activists, and world leaders have publicly condemned the president’s actions.
“We are a nation of bridges, not walls, and a great many of us still believe the words 'give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...,'" New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement posted to his Twitter account. "This is not who we are. And not who we should be."
Another protest scheduled to begin at JFK at 6 p.m. EST.