Civil rights groups, activists and politicians from the Democratic Party converged at major airports across the US after President Donald Trump banned certain immigrant groups and refugees from entering the country.

Protesters assembled within hours at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York after two Iraqis with valid visas were detained while trying to enter the country on Saturday.
Protesters assembled within hours at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York after two Iraqis with valid visas were detained while trying to enter the country on Saturday.

Thousands of people held spontaneous protests at airports across the United States on Saturday night to voice their opposition to President Donald Trump's ban on all refugees and travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, joining the global uproar against the restriction.

Trump issued an executive order on Friday prohibiting the entry of people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Sudan. The order's stated purpose is to stop attacks by terrorist groups.

The protest at JFK International Airport in New York City started small on Saturday morning. By evening, there was little room to spare at the international airport for travellers or transport. This spontaneous eruption was followed by demonstrations at Washington DC's Dulles International Airport, Denver International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.

"Let them in. Let them in," thousands chanted outside of JFK airport. "No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here."

The numbers only grew as news spread of people from these seven countries being detained or turned away at US airports. In the case of permanent residents, some reportedly had to answer questions about their political views and submit to checks of their social media profiles, according to immigration lawyers.

Confusion over the terms of the law led to delays and panicked re-booking of flights.

TRT World's Oliver Whitfield-Miocic reports.

Standing in solidarity

Amanda Mae Yee, 32, who lives in New York, started her Saturday morning without any intention of ending up at a protest by the end of the day.

"Well I woke up this morning and read about Donald Trump signing his executive order banning refugees from Muslim-majority countries," she told TRT World.

"And I felt really anxious about it, really helpless. So when I saw on Facebook that there was a protest gathering at JFK, I decided I needed to go. At the very least to stand in solidarity and show opposition to Trump," she said. "Well, I think we're all – my friends and I – struggling internally to figure out concrete ways we can stop Trump, especially given the accelerating speed he's been signing these executive orders. We're all feeling a sense of urgency right now."

Mae Yee was stunned by the pace at which Trump was fulfilling the most draconian campaign promises.

"It's like the unimaginable is so quickly becoming real," she said.

One protester, Stephen Kirsch, 27, from Pittsburgh, who was at the JFK demonstration, said solidarity with Muslims' rights brought him out. He also noted other Trump directives over the last week, including the beginnings of building a massive wall on the US border with Mexico.

"Months ago when the discussion of a ban on Muslims started, I promised myself I'd show up. And I'll continue to show up as much as I can," Kirsch told TRT World. "The string of atrocities that took place this week are all disgusting, but the issue of refugees and a Muslim ban are particularly personal. I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for all the lovely Muslims in my life. We'll fight to the last day for their basic rights."

At Logan International Airport in Boston, Senator Elizabeth Warren encouraged crowds to take up her rallying cry.

Trump has business interests in multiple middle eastern countries, and many of these were exempt from the ban.

"It's not a Muslim ban, but we were totally prepared. It's working out very nicely. You see it at the airports. You see it all over. It's working out very nicely and we're going to have a very, very strict ban and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years," Trump said on Saturday.

During his campaign, Trump had promised to institute a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslim immigration into the US, a policy which drew condemnation from civil rights groups as being unconstitutional. The constitution prohibits religious tests for service in government, but it is unclear what the Trump administration's long-term immigration plans and procedures will be.

Trump this weekend said he would prioritise Christian refugees fleeing warfare.

Later in the campaign, Trump said new laws would apply to people from countries that export terrorism.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies