By Dustin Slaughter
Some 5,000 protesters rallied for a second day at Philadelphia International Airport against President Donald Trump’s refugee ban, which currently bars immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Rachel Winsberg, a member of Jewish Voices for Peace’s local chapter and an organizer of Sunday’s rally, told The Declaration that letters were delivered to several airlines inside the terminal yesterday asking those companies to make a “moral choice” to “side with humanity”.
The event was organized by over two dozen advocacy organizations, including New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, CAIR Philadelphia, HIAS Philadelphia, Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild, and Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania.
The crowd continued to grow inside the International Arrivals terminal Sunday afternoon, and eventually spilled outside, where thousands chanted, gave speeches, and cheered honking vehicles carrying passengers who had just arrived from overseas. A march later ensued.
The executive order implemented on Friday also puts priority on Christian minorities from those countries. Trump’s decree sparked rallies in airports nationwide and has created a “Constitutional crisis,” a congressman from Virginia wrote on Twitter yesterday.
Two Syrian refugee families – six people in total – were put on return flights Saturday night from Philadelphia. According to NBC 10 Philadelphia, the six had green cards and were approved for entry. They also identified as Christians, according to a family member, a religious minority in Syria.
“The Trump administration very well may have just given these families a death sentence,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement on Saturday night.
“History has taught us that dark moments like this occur when we allow fear to silence our compassion and better judgement,” he continued. “Our city has welcomed approximately 260 refugees in recent years from these now-banned nations. We must speak out strongly against this executive order so that these new Philadelphians’ friends and families can also find safe harbor in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”
Legal assistance came too late for those families, but other Syrians who arrived on Saturday were more fortunate. Federal attorneys in Philadelphia agreed to release those people, in custody since Saturday night, following pressure from the PA ACLU and local attorneys. A federal judge in Brooklyn, NY issued a nationwide stay temporarily halting further deportations early Saturday morning.
“We are pleased that we were able to negotiate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia to obtain the release of detainees at the Philadelphia International Airport, and the attorneys we were in touch with deserve significant credit for their responsiveness and sensitivity,” Jon Feinberg, an attorney with Philadelphia-based law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing and Feinberg and who assisted the ACLU on Saturday, told The Declaration.
“However, based on accounts we have heard from other locations around the country in which it appears that Homeland Security officers have ignored a federal court order, it is not entirely clear who is making decisions about implementation of the President’s Executive Order, and this is an issue that we will be carefully monitoring.”
Feinberg is referring to Homeland Security agents at airports such as Dulles International Airport in Virginia, who continue to process arrivals under the new order in open defiance of federal judges, The Guardian reported this morning.
“As an immigrant, this is very touching to me,” Aziz Akabouch said of the massive rally on Sunday. He immigrated from Morocco 17 years ago and has lived in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter since.
“Knowing what [Trump] used to say before he became president, I was not that surprised. He just put it to work now,” Akabouch said of the ban. “It’s really sad. This is America. People are nice here.”
His mother, currently living in Morocco, plans to travel to America in the near future and is in the final stages of obtaining the proper paperwork. While he quickly points out that Morocco isn’t on the list of seven Muslim-majority countries, he is concerned that may change.