Hundreds of immigrants, college students, toddlers and concerned citizens converged on Syracuse Hancock International Airport Sunday evening to protest a recent executive order signed by President Donald Trump that halted travel to the U.S. for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.
The Central New York Solidarity Coalition organized the rally at Terminal A and hundreds of people came from around Upstate New York to protest the executive order Trump signed on Friday, which also indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from being admitted to the U.S. and halted admission of refugees from any country for 120 days.
“Especially with the election of Donald Trump I’ve tried to really commit to taking more grassroots rebel action even though that’s something I don’t normally do,” said Lisset Pino ’17, who drove 50 miles from Ithaca to Syracuse for the protest.
Dozens of travelers from the seven countries included in Trump’s executive order — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — were detained at airports throughout the country over the weekend, prompting protests from Miami to Seattle.
Organizers said they did not believe anyone was detained at the Syracuse airport — which has only one international flight, to Canada — but that the location of the protest is a symbol of the city’s openness to refugees from around the world.
“The refugee community has contributed a tremendous amount to Syracuse … we love our refugees here,” said Joe Driscoll, an organizer with the CNY Solidarity Coalition. “The airport was the best symbolic way to show that because we want to welcome them here, not see this kind of scene.”
Driscoll and other organizers said the crowd peaked at 1,000 people, although police at the airport gave more conservative estimates of between 400 and 500 attendees in the baggage claim terminal, which was packed with protesters of all ages — some in strollers.
Protesters yelled into a loudspeaker and carried signs, many of which were filled with images of Lady Liberty and the Emma Lazarus sonnet about accepting the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that is engraved inside the statue’s pedestal.
Other makeshift signs bore phrases like “Hate is not a foreign policy,” “Build bridges not walls” and “Impeach Pres. Bannon,” a reference to Stephen Bannon, the chief strategist and senior counselor to Trump.
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, who earlier this month said Syracuse would continue to be a sanctuary city for immigrants, attended the protest and told The Sun she was willing to forfeit federal funding to stand up for immigrant rights.
“It’s at times like this where you can decide, do you want to chase dollars that are going to evaporate or are you going to stand for your values?” Miner said. “And I think you’re seeing this community say, ‘we want to stand for our values.’”
“Syracuse is a city of immigrants,” Miner added. “We have been very fortunate that we have had a burgeoning population [of refugees]. These are peaceful people who add to our community, and what I’ve seen the president do systematically in the past eight days is convey a message of hatred that is completely inconsistent with American values.”
Driscoll and another organizer, Brian Escobar, cited a Syracuse.com report that 220 refugees who had already been vetted and approved to travel to the city have had their “hopes of freedom dashed by the stroke of a pen.”
Jay Subedi, a refugee from Bhutan, said he came to the protest because he “believes in the people who hope to have a safe life and freedom, and a prosperous life in the U.S.”
At least a dozen police were on scene to monitor the protest, but reported no injuries or arrests.
Lovely Davis, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Upstate, said Trump’s executive order was a “fascist act,” and that people of color are especially affected by the order, which gives priority to Christians abroad.
“It’s so bigoted and biased and racist and I’m just here to destroy all of those things,” said Davis, a Buffalo native. “Now is the time when we need to get together … because ‘nationalism’ is a codeword for American fascism.”
Mayor Miner said she had been surprised by the number of people who attended Syracuse’s Women’s March and was surprised again by the hundreds who filled the airport’s lobby.
“It’s a Sunday night, everyone’s going to work tomorrow, it’s cold,” she said. “It’s pretty easy on a Sunday night at 7 o’clock to just be like, ‘you know what, I’ll like a Facebook page and call it a day,’ but you can see, there’s been a nerve touched and these people aren’t going away.”
Katie Sims ’20 contributed reporting to this story.