Thousands protest Trump immigration ban at Detroit airport

Sunday, January 29, 2017 - 10:15pm

Nearly 5,000 people took over the Detroit Metropolitan Airport international terminal Sunday afternoon to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order preventing individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. Attendees stopped lanes of traffic and filled the terminal, chanting: “Let them in” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

Organizers from the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the Michigan chapter of the Women’s March on Washington arranged the protest in under 24 hours, joining similar movements at airports across the country over the weekend.

Trump’s order, signed on Friday, severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries including Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Syria for 90 days, suspends all refugee resettlement for 120 days and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely. A New York federal judge — who is also a University of Michigan alum — overturned part of the ban Saturday evening to allow travelers currently detained at airports into the country.

Protesters first demonstrated outside the terminal a stream of people spontaneously joined from cars driving by and some travelers even delayed their flights to participate. The crowd then packed the entire arrivals area inside the terminal for a rally led by elected officials and local activists. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) told protesters their activism — in addition to legal action — was a key component in overturning Trump’s ban.

“We are trying to introduce legislation that will overturn the executive order,” she said to cheers from the crowd. “This is not about Republican or Democrat, we are here as Americans. There is no one who doesn’t care about national security … but we are standing for fundamental rights in the Constitution: freedom of religion, freedom of speech.”

Residents of cities with high concentrations of Muslim immigrants, like Dearborn and Hamtramck, also protested Sunday afternoon. Michigan hosts the second-highest population of Syrian refugees in the country, but resettlement programs across the state may be forced to close in light of the ban.

LSA freshman Ayah Kutmah, a first-generation Syrian American, said the protest allayed much of the anxiety she felt after the executive order, despite her relatives’ inability to join her in the United States.

“My family is devastated, but I don’t like to think of (the ban) as indefinite,” she said. “I have so much hope today, and I honestly think the more we show support like this for refugees and immigrants, the more representatives will listen.”

Elected officials attending the event included Dingell, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D–Mich.), and Michigan Reps. Abdullah Hammoud (D–Dearborn), Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) and Jim Ellison (D–Royal Oak). Rabhi condemned Trump and called for more representatives to fight for the protection of vulnerable citizens.

“This is fighting for the America we all love and fighting against an oppressive man who is now the president of the United States and pushing a neo-fascist agenda,” he said. “My role is standing up every day for the refugees seeking safety in our country, for everyone who wants to make America home.”  

Waving to a line of cars honking on the airport concourse, state Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D–Detroit) paused chanting to criticize the “hypocrisy” of the ban.

“My family fled their homes overseas because of these kinds of policies, and now they’ll have to fight them here,” she said. “Here, now, though, I’m proud to be an American today.”  

Both University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor released statements this weekend promising to protect international and undocumented community members. Schlissel’s refusal to release information on students’ immigration statuses was one of a handful of statements from universities and colleges over the weekend affirming a commitment to international students. Taylor, too, stood in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, even accusing Trump and his supporters of having “polluted” the country’s honor.

Nursing senior Matt White applauded the University’s statement at the protest and pushed for even more action.

“I was very proud to see our University stand up on this issue,” he said. “But we need to work to protect all immigrants — students, faculty and staff — not just students.”


History Prof. Heather Thompson agreed, citing the protest’s place in a history of resistance against policies limiting immigrants’ rights. Amid chants of “no Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” Thompson warned of history repeating itself.

“The American people who care about refugees, immigrants, democracy and freedom are not going to put up with this and they never did,” she said. “They didn’t in the ’20s, they didn’t in the ’30s, not in the ’50s and they’re not going to do it now. I remind Americans we’ve been here before, and fascism happens slowly when we don’t stand up.”  

Protest organizers connected Sunday’s action to a slew of other issues — most notably Trump’s order of a wall on the Mexican border — and assured larger and more coordinated campaigns were on the way. MMCC organizer Fatima Salman pointed to the immediate response the protest garnered from community members.

“Every community has joined along in the last day and we as a Metro Detroit community are a strong and unified front,” she said. “Refugees are welcome here, and they’ve always been welcome here and they always will be.”