Joining protesters across the country Sunday, hundreds of chanting and singing demonstrators filled Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport to denounce President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring entry into the United States of all refugees as well as visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
The mass of protesters spread out across the terminal floor, yelling slogans such as “Love not hate! That’s what makes America great!” and raising signs welcoming newcomers to the country. Joining the demonstration in the midafternoon, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg pledged: “Mr. Trump, we will fight you every step of the way.”
The protest capped a tumultuous weekend set off by Trump’s Friday afternoon order indefinitely banning arrivals from Syria, blocking all refugees for 120 days and barring entry of anyone from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days. Sacramento’s large refugee community has reacted with apprehension, with many still trying to bring loved ones over from home countries.
Cheered by the airport protesters, Steinberg told The Sacramento Bee that “civil rights are civil rights are civil rights. We don’t compromise these values.”
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“I am an American Jew. I read a lot of history,” the mayor said. “When people are targeted and treated as different, the worst thing – worse than the acts themselves – are people who don’t speak up and speak out.”
Echoing other protesters, Shereema Ibrahim, a Muslim who lives in Sacramento, said she believed the refugee ban violated the founding spirit of the country.
“I’m here because I’m appalled at the whole idea of a ban,” said Ibrahim, who added that two of her daughters serve in the U.S. military and she fears for their safety. “This country was founded on escaping religious persecution. … I care about this country, and this is horrible – absolutely horrible.”
Trump has said the order is necessary to place stricter controls on the refugee-admissions process and protect the country’s borders. The U.S. already extensively screens refugees, some of whom wait for years before winning admission to the country.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump said Sunday in a written statement. “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
Late Saturday, two federal courts ruled against part of Trump’s executive order. A judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., granted a nationwide stay preventing the government from deporting people who arrived with valid U.S. visas. A second judge in Virginia issued a temporary restraining order preventing the deportation of permanent U.S. residents who arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Other judges around the country have also weighed in to block enforcement of parts of the order.
Just a week after massive women’s marches were held nationwide, airport protests have erupted in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and other cities, while demonstrators have filled the streets of Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York. Dozens of refugees and visitors have been detained at airports, although none have been reported detained in Sacramento.
The city of Sacramento ranks among the nation’s top 10 destinations for Syrian refugees, while Sacramento County has been the destination for thousands of Afghans, Iraqis and Ukrainians from 2010 through 2016, according to the U.S. Department of State and the California Department of Social Services.
At San Francisco International Airport, lawyers held up signs in the hallways offering their services to families who may have had loved ones detained.
“The way we understand it, some of the arms of the executive branch are disobeying the court’s order that was issued last night out of the Eastern District of New York,” said Shabnam Malek, a Farsi-speaking attorney who was offering her services to assist Iranian immigrants and their families already living in Northern California. “It’s important to note our objection to that. There are a lot of lawyers out here working hard to make sure that people are released and allowed to join with their families.”
Sara Ehsani-Nia, a second-year law student at UC Davis, worked at the international terminal with the Asian Law Caucus after the agency was contacted by the relatives of an elderly Iranian couple who had been detained on their way to visiting family members.
“They just left,” Ehsani-Nia said of the couple. “They’ve been through an ordeal. The woman was told she was going to be deported. They felt extremely helpless. The woman was not allowed to make a phone call. The family had no idea where she was. Eventually, she was allowed to make a phone call, and their daughter reached out and the attorneys were able to get her released.”
Ehsani-Nia said she did not know for sure if any other immigrants were being held in San Francisco at the time of her 2:30 p.m. interview. Emma Dinkenspiel, another attorney who was volunteering her services, said she and other lawyers were awaiting a 4 p.m. flight from Dubai to see if any potential subjects of the Muslim ban were on board.
“So many lawyers are out here today,” Dinkenspiel said.
A team of eight UC Davis law students and school alumni have been working as legal counsel for three of the people detained in San Francisco and five legal U.S. residents who have been unable to return to this country, said Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis.
Cooper said lawyers are in touch with families and friends of those detained in San Francisco but can’t speak directly with the detainees. She wasn’t able to give specific locations for those in contact with the clinic staff.
“We are in an office working on petitions,” she said. “These are petitions for people who are being held unconstitutionally, beyond their free will.”
Cooper said the immigration drama will be a key test for the nation’s courts.
“If the judicial branch cannot balance out excessive government power, then we fail as a democracy,” she said.
Several hundred protesters followed a brass band and marched through a main terminal in San Francisco until they were halted by police officers. Calling itself the Brass Liberation Orchestra, the band provided a New Orleans-style backbeat to protesters who chanted in rhythm, “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!” A red-and-black dragon more likely to be seen at a Lunar New Year’s parade also joined in the demonstration to massive cheers from the protesters.
Protesters and police came face to face in the terminal, but there were no physical confrontations.
Later on Sunday afternoon, several dozen of the protesters sat on stairway steps and blocked escalators in an effort to prevent some travelers from making it to their flights.
“The idea is that I think we all feel we need to resist,” said Adam Jadhav, 34, a doctoral student in geography at UC Berkeley who was holding a banner across an escalator that read, “Become Ungovernable.”
Jadhav said he sympathizes with anybody who may have been inconvenienced, but that “the way direct action works is through solidarity. We’ve been saying, if you miss your flight, call your congressman.”
In Sacramento, Ronnie and Stuart Cohen of Berkeley detoured a Sierra skiing trip Sunday to join the local airport protest. They said they saw dark historic parallels in the ban signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“We are Jewish, and the parallels to Germany and the Holocaust are frightening,” Ronnie Cohen said. “We came up to stand together against this outrageous policy. This policy is incomprehensible, but the response has been heartening.”
Amy Alameda of Sacramento was waiting for a flight to Nevada but stopped to take in the protest, capturing images on her smartphone. She said she supported the demonstrators and wondered about the ban’s repercussions for Americans traveling abroad.
Sacramento airport authorities reported no impacts by the protests on flight operations. There were also no clashes with those supporting the Trump order, although at one point, a man on an escalator yelled down “Build the wall!” referring to the president’s promise to build a southern border wall.
“I thank these people for doing it,” Alameda said. “I think every single airport in every single city needs to do this. … I travel. I love the United States. I’m fearful of what (travel) is going to look like now because I’m American.”