Not long into his campaign, President Donald Trump stood before a roaring crowd and called for a “complete and total shutdown” of all Muslims entering the United States. At the time, multiple polls showed a disturbing trend—that a substantive number of Americans supported a moratorium on Muslim immigration.
Late January 27, Trump signed an executive order, which revealed that while his language is no longer as biting and overt, he still aims to satisfy campaign promises made months ago. This decree meant anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—would be denied entry into the U.S.
According to NY Daily News, “[T]he Department of Homeland Security issued a directive at 4:30 p.m. ordering the Customs and Border Protection to enforce the executive order [on January 29].” Thanks in part to the provision’s ambiguous language, Marcelo Rochabrun, reporting fellow at ProPublica, reported those in the U.S. with visas and green cards would be affected. The same day, senior US administration officials told Reuters “green card holders from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries traveling outside the United States need to check with a U.S. consulate to see whether they can return.”
A stay against the executive order was issued by a federal judge on Saturday night, but the Trump administration indicated agencies would defy the order and continue to enforce it.
Bassim, who asked to have his last name withheld for security reasons, is a 31-year-old retail worker and Iraqi national. His family is originally from Karbala.
“I’m confused about everything,” Bassim confessed. “My mother, she is very old and as you know Iraq is not safe. I’ve been trying to get her to the United States for at least a year, and now I can’t even go back.”
Bassim, who holds a green card, told Shadowproof that if he were to leave the U.S. he’s afraid that he’d be forced to go back to Iraq, “and then maybe I can never come back”.
This unsettling reality has caused understandable distress for Bassim and his family. “Sometimes I wake up and I just want to go back, to tell you the truth. I didn’t come here so everyone can make me feel like I’m an animal because I’m Muslim. I work hard just to send money to my family so they can live, and still I struggle.”
Bassim explained that keeping up with the news has amplified his anxiety, and in the last few months he feels like more of an outsider than before.
“I have an accent, I’m an Arab, and sometimes when I try to communicate with people I see it in their face, that they’re almost disgusted,” Bassim shared. “When they see my name they have the same expression on their face.”
Unless the situation changes, Bassim is genuinely considering moving back to Iraq permanently to be with his mother. “She’s telling me to have patience, that things will get better, and she’s trying to convince me not to come back, for my own safety. The only reason I haven’t left is because she is begging me not to come home.”
Despite the harrowing trials that lay ahead for many who are now tangled in the Trump administration’s nightmarish immigration limbo, people across the nation mobilized in their defense. Roused by what is, at the very core, the desire to offer empathy and extend solidarity towards another human being, airports were flooded with protesters chanting, among many other slogans, “Let them in!”
As protests raged—from New York to San Francisco—the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) mounted a legal charge against the Trump administration, the first of many, that challenged the constitutionality of his executive order. Brooklyn Judge Ann M. Donnelly then issued an emergency stay, which ordered a halt to deportations to allow those with valid visas to remain. The ACLU won, landing its first blow against President Donald Trump.
Nora Barrows-Friedman, journalist, author, and radio broadcaster, told Shadowproof that she was one of nearly 1,000 at San Francisco airport “because we are all called to engage in acts of resistance by those who are bearing the brunt of the system”, and she went “because this is what we have to do for each other.” Barrows-Friedman argued, right now, people looking to get involved in resisting the Trump administration’s immigration ban need to find their local grassroots organizing group and “get ready to fight for the long haul.”
“It’s directly because of the hard work of these local groups that people were rallied so quickly,” she said. “That the message stayed so radical and political, and that the pressure built rapidly across multiple cities—all of this ultimately led to the federal judge issuing a national stay.”
Barrows-Friedman described occupying the airport, and the optics of similar direct actions, as being important and extraordinarily powerful.
“When you can go to the physical source of injustices and stand in places where human rights are being violated—and everyday people can witness that—the struggle is taken out of the abstract and becomes personal,” she added. “Just as the images from Standing Rock have made an impact on people across the U.S. and across the world, these kinds of images from international airports in the U.S., where people were called to action and went in droves, have the power to change history.”
“Many people were at the airport today protesting for the first time. People were angry. They were determined to win. We have to keep up the pressure. We can’t let the enemy rest for one fucking second. From this small but significant victory, we continue to build on a long-standing tradition of defiance.”
The airport-packing protests were spontaneous, emotional, and militant—showing at the very least that there is clearly enough energy there, even in the face of soul-crushing hurdles, and that winning is still possible.
Laura Chapman, a 24-year-old technical director at a television station, was moved to join protests at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago after hearing about the airport detainments via Twitter.
“I felt compelled to take the train out after my shift and protest after reading that there were 18 people being detained,” Chapman shared. “I was moved to tears by the sheer number of people of all walks of life, who were joining in together with the clarity of a call like, “Let them in!” I am new to protest activity, but I feel a call to action that I can’t ignore any longer as these new horrors spill forth daily.”
Casey Merwin was also at O’Hare. The 22-year-old college student and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member found out about the direct action two hours ahead of time, and rushed out to join other DSA members for his first-ever protest.
“It was really exciting and empowering to take part in.” Merwin told Shadowproof, since Trump’s order came into effect immediately, without warning, it warranted an immediate show of people power. “I was really happy and surprised to see that people stayed long after because they weren’t satisfied until they saw those who were detained released.”
Thirty year-old Dan Irving, a PhD student and English instructor, was ready to go to a friend’s birthday party but decided to blow it off when he heard about the protest. “It didn’t feel right being anywhere else and the energy on the ground [in JFK]—from the top of the parking garage down to the barricades—was intense, easily surpassing most of Inauguration Weekend.”
“It’s real now,” Irving said. “It’s not going to stop, and I think after tonight—seeing JFK and elsewhere—I think we’re ready for it.”
Jordan Budd, organizing director for Family Values at Work, felt compelled to join protests in New York because of what he described as “a moral imperative to fight for those who cannot.”
“I had just come back from a full day out when I heard about Cadman Plaza and the lawsuit hearing. I rushed right back out the door. We need every person, who is able to put their bodies on the line for justice.”
Based on what he saw, Budd suggested many of those who came out last night were not used to protesting. “But the energy, like when the stay was announced, was electric. I am feeling legitimate hope for the first time in a few months.”