Queens activists scramble to protest Muslim ban

By Prem Calvin Prashad

The hastily written and implemented ban on entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries was met with swift condemnation and protests by Queens activists and other opponents at Kennedy Airport.

On hearing that arrivals from those countries were being detained by Customs and Border Patrol, thousands of protesters descended on Terminal 4, joined by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and partner organizations.

Of the seven counties in the ban – Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Somalia — there have been no terrorist attacks committed by these nationals in the United States.

The 9/11 assault was committed not by refugees, but rather visa holders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Egypt – none of which are subject to the ban.

The perpetrators’ most infamous attack by refugees – the Boston Bombings – hailed from the former Soviet Union. Other attacks, such as San Bernardino, Orlando and last year’s bombing in Chelsea were perpetrated by American citizens.

Though the order appears to build on a 2011 order by President Obama to enhance vetting from these nations, the former policy did not cause the large-scale cancelation of travel for otherwise innocent persons.

Proponents of the ban have conflated the presence of fundamentalist terrorists in these countries as an indictment of every person visiting the United States.

Conflicting numbers from the White House and Justice Department have put the number of visas canceled by the ban at between 60,000 to 100,000.

Queens-based activists, having worked for years with immigrants – both documented and undocumented — joined the protests. Jackson Heights-based DRUM led a coalition of community groups to declare Kensington, Brooklyn, a “hate-free zone.”

Kensington is one of New York’s most diverse neighborhoods and also the home of some 300 refugees of genocide from the Darfur region of Sudan.

Organizers discussed the implications of current federal policy on their lives. Israt Audry, a youth member with the group, decried the policy moves as “normalizing the blatant Islamophobia and anti-immigrant policies and practices” and a gateway to “attacking the rights and lives of all marginalized communities.”

The effort follows up a similar gathering in December to declare Jackson Heights a “hate-free zone.”

Sadhana, a Richmond Hill-based progressive Hindu organization, joined the Jan. 28 rallies at JFK. Sunita Viswanath, of Brooklyn, a board member of the organization, spoke at that rally, citing concerns that Indians were likely to be mistaken as Muslims and subject to bias attacks as a result of the ban.

Also in Richmond Hill, the Indo-Caribbean Alliance, citing the assault of Rabeeya Khan, a Guyanese Muslim Delta employee at JFK, condemned President Trump’s actions and rhetoric and joined the Jan. 28 protest.

The group also organized a Feb. 2 town hall at its offices in Richmond Hill to discuss the immigration order with the community.

The temporary ban, currently 90 days, which also includes a 120-day ban on refugees and permanent ban on Syrians fleeing civil war, was in theory imposed to review screening and vetting of persons from those countries.

A lack of clarity on the review practice and unclear language that has excluded even documented persons – green card and visa holders — has stoked suspicions that the ban will be made permanent.

There are also suspicions that the hastily worded and implemented order was a loyalty test for federal agencies, with the State Department and Justice Department noting concerns (and facing prompt retaliation) and Customers and Border Protection and Homeland Security reportedly continuing to enforce the ban in spite of a court injunction.

Activists groups have also been rallying for New York City to secure data pertaining to the IDNYC municipal identification program and protect the future of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program known as the Dream Act.

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