UPDATE: Hundreds at JFK protest Trump immigration ban; governor reopens AirTrain

Photos by Dean Moses

Protesters jammed the parking garage and walkways outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday after a dozen individuals arriving in the U.S. were detained as a result of an immigration ban ordered by President Donald Trump on Friday.

Make the Road New York, which is located in Jackson Heights, began protesting outside the International Arrivals terminal to protest Trump’s executive order that prohibits residents of Iraq and a select number of other Middle Eastern nations from entering the United States for at least 90 days. The crowd grew throughout the day, chanting loudly and holding up signs demanding that foreign refugees be permitted entry into the U.S.


As a result of Trump’s ban, two Iraqi men who arrived at JFK on Friday night, Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkaleq Alshawi, were among at least 12 people detained and prohibited from leaving the terminal. According to CNN, both men have worked previously for the U.S. government during and/or following the Iraq War and were granted visas to enter the country.

Darweesh and Alshawi subsequently filed legal challenges to Trump’s executive action. CNN reported that the two men claim to have been denied access to a lawyer, and were told by law enforcement agents to contact Trump about their situation.

On Saturday night, a federal judge — in legal action filed by the American Civil Liberties Union — ruled that customs agents could not send any detainees at American airports back to their home countries, reported The New York Times.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Congressman Jerrold Nadler visited Terminal 4 earlier on Saturday and met with members of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Shortly thereafter, Darweesh was released from CBP custody; Alshawi and 10 other refugees are still being detained at JFK, according to a tweet that Nadler posted.

Photo via Twitter/@RepJerryNadler
Photo via Twitter/@RepJerryNadler

In a statement released by Make the Road New York, Velazquez compared the situation to the story of the MS St. Louis, a German ship with hundreds of Jewish refugees seeking to escape Nazi Germany that arrived on American shores in 1939. The U.S. government denied the refugees entry, and the ship was returned to Europe; most of the refugees on board later died in Nazi concentration camps.

“What is happening at JFK International Airport right now is an affront to American values,” Velazquez said. “I will not and cannot stand idly by as the Trump administration begins repeating such unconscionable acts.”

Attorneys are at the terminal providing assistance to any individual banned from entering the U.S. under Trump’s executive order.

Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that he has directed the Port Authority, the New York Department of State and his Counsel’s office “explore all legal options to assist anyone detained at New York airports, and ensure that their rights are protected.”

“America is a nation of laws and those laws provide rights that must be respected and followed regardless of political ideology,” Cuomo said.

Javier Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, condemned Trump’s executive order, noting that Darweesh, Alshawi and other refugees are simply in search of a better life in the United States and deserve the opportunity to enter the country.

“Just like so many of our own families, they and their families have come to this country fleeing violence and threats to their lives,” Valdés said. “They seek a better life. It is part of this nation’s core principles to welcome them. It is disgraceful that President Trump’s new policy has separated them from their children. He must reverse course immediately and let them go.”

The turnout for the protest was so large that it apparently prompted the Port Authority to suspend AirTrain service at JFK; however, Cuomo directed the Port Authority to restore service so protesters could get to and from the airport.