Protests break out at O’Hare after Trump’s executive order on refugees

One of the protestors with her sign while waiting for the detainees to be released at O'Hare International Airport. (Alexis Wainwright/MEDILL)

By Alexis Wainwright

Thousands of protesters descended on airports across the United States — including Chicago’s O’Hare — last weekend after scores of international travelers were detained following President Donald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and citizens from several countries.

The executive order signed on Friday barred Syrian refugees from entering the U.S. for an indefinite period and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The order, called “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” is intended to keep what Trump calls “radical Islamic terrorists” out the country.

The order temporarily restricts entry to the U.S. from citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. On Saturday, thousands of protesters filled Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, shutting down all traffic to the international terminal. The protests erupted again on Sunday.

On Saturday night, Federal judge Ann Donnelly in New York, where there were large protests at JFK Airport, temporarily barred deporting new arrivals, stating that refugees and others being detained should not be sent out of the country. In Chicago, protesters at O’Hare continued until the detainees were released. For some of the protestors, Trump’s order affected them personally.

Protester Mary Duggan Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood on the Southwest Side said once she read about the protest on Facebook, she was in such a hurry to get to O’Hare that she walked her dog, packed sandwiches, labeled signs, and made it to the airport with her sisters in 20 minutes.

“We said, ‘Hey, we’re Chicagoans, we know what to do and we made our way through the domestic area,’ ” Duggan said after she and her sisters discovered the international section of Terminal Five was blocked.

Duggan, who is disabled, made her way to a close-by handicapped seat while her sisters stood with other protesters, claiming the area solely for herself. She added that she participated in the Women’s March earlier this month and wanted her voice to be heard again.

“This is not American,” Duggan said. “This is not who we are. This is not who we want to become. We need to make sure the president understands that immediately.”

Negin Hosseini, an Iranian-American, said she joined the protesters to support what she believes in.

“Not only I am defending the rights of my mom, my sister, and my people in Iran who are not terrorist,” Hosseini said, “I am also defending those rights of all people in all those targeted countries. They’re innocent, and they have done nothing to this country. “

Other supporters passed out donuts and other items for the protesters. Also at the airport were local and Congressional politicians, as well as lawyers who volunteered to get detainees released.

“I’m here to show my support for the work people are doing,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider, Democrat of Illinois’ 10th District.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also appeared at the airport Sunday to thank the attorneys who helped the detainees. While at the airport, Emanuel announced his plan to host immigrants in his home, including so-called “Dreamers,” who are immigrants who were brought here illegally as children.

“In the coming days my family and I will host Dreamers attending Chicago Public Schools and Chicago City Colleges for a meal, a conversation, and a recognition and celebration for all that unites us, rather than what divides us,” Emanuel said. He called on all Chicagoans to help welcome immigrants.

Schneider said the U.S. has a major responsibility to keep citizens safe at home and abroad, “but you don’t do it by closing our borders to certain religions or ethnicities.” He added: “We do it by having smart policies, and what we are seeing now is the exact opposite.”

By Sunday, the Trump administration clarified that “Green Card” holders were not among those restricted, which had caused significant confusion and anger before the clarification, but said they still would be subject to additional questioning.

Several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are legally challenging Trump’s order. Lawsuits were quickly filed in multiple states and immigration lawyers said they plan to continue helping those who have been detained or need other legal assistance.

PHOTO AT TOP: One of the protestors with her sign while waiting for the detainees to be released at O’Hare International Airport. (Alexis Wainwright/MEDILL)