Protests of President Donald Trump’s executive order barring immigrants, refugees and legal U.S. citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from returning to the U.S. sparked protests at airports across the country – including in the Triangle.
A protest of the order was planned for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and more than 1,000 people said on Facebook they planned to attend. More than 3,400 said they were interested in the protest of what was being commonly referred to by opponents, including the RDU protesters, as the “Muslim ban.”
“Due to safety and impact to airport operations, we are ending the protest. Please return to your vehicles.
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“The permit was for 150 people. More than 1,000 came. Now, our first priority is the safety of the traveler and protester alike.”
Social media and News & Observer video showed a crowd of hundreds of people, many holding signs, yelling and chanting near Terminal 2 Sunday afternoon.
As the crowd grew, police roped off the protesters to keep them out of the flow of traffic. RDU announced at about 1:45 p.m. Sunday that it was closing the upper level of Terminal 2 to traffic to keep protesters and others safe.
“We are showing up to protest Trump's executive order. The Triangle stands with refugees and immigrants ... The time for this event is the same time as the White House protest and we are protesting in solidarity,” event organizers wrote on the protest’s Facebook page.
Airport spokesman Andrew Sawyer said that no one had been detained at RDU as of late Saturday night. Wake County Commissioner John Burns and Durham City Councilman Charlie Reece reached out on Twitter asking for information on area residents being detained.
Protesters planned to meet in the designated protesting area of RDU outside Terminal 2 on the south end of the upper level curb on John Brantley Boulevard. The airport also opened special event parking near the General Aviation Terminal with shuttles to the protest zone. Parking was set at $5.
“To keep the protest peaceful, please refrain from blocking traffic or organizing in road areas. Bring your signs, balloons and be ready for a peaceful protest,” according to the Facebook page.
The airport issued a permit for a 150-person protest and released a statement:
“Our goal is to ensure a peaceful demonstration. Our priority is to keep everyone safe and to ensure uninterrupted airport operations. The designated area for protests is outside Terminal 2, on the south end of the upper level curb. We are not able to accommodate protests inside any terminal building. We are opening a special event parking lot at noon, near the General Aviation Terminal for dedicated parking with busing directly to the designated protest zone. The parking rate for this lot will be $5, lower than any other airport parking facility. Please help us share this information with those planning to participate today.”
No impacts to flights were expected as a result of the protest, according to the airport authority.
Late Saturday, two federal courts ruled against part of Trump’s executive order. A federal court in Brooklyn granted a nationwide stay preventing the government from deporting people who arrived with valid U.S. visas. “Our own government presumably approved their entry to the country,” said Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York.
A second judge in Virginia issued a temporary restraining order preventing the deportation of permanent U.S. residents who arrived at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia also ruled that the detained passengers must be given access to an attorney.
By Sunday, judges in Boston and Seattle joined those in New York and Virginia in deeming the order unlawful and unconstitutional.
The American Civil Liberties Union estimated that between 100 and 200 people were being held in U.S. airports because of Trump’s executive order, which upended thousands of lives overnight, including permanent U.S. residents who were denied entry or stranded abroad over the weekend.
Doctors, professors, students and others took to social media Saturday and Sunday to say they either being prevented from returning to the U.S. or were being detained or deported, even though they said they were U.S. legal residents and some had lived in the country for years.
Outraged families and advocacy groups publicized cases of visa holders and permanent residents, including some who’ve held so-called green cards for decades, being detained at airports or barred from entering the United States.
Officials at airports also were reportedly keeping those detained from speaking with their lawyers, violating a federal court order.
Six people were arrested Saturday night during protests at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to The Charlotte Observer.
“Approximately 50 protestors formed in two distinct groups. A small group was protesting immigration and presidential executive orders. An additional group arrived and were protesting community related issues,” police said in a statement. WFAE reported that the protesters included members of Charlotte Uprising, a group organized in the aftermath of September’s fatal police shooting of Keith Scott.
“Officers, along with airport staff worked with organizers to facilitate lawful demonstrations. Subsequently, demonstrators transitioned to a more aggressive group, causing a disturbance in the airport terminal,” the police statement said.
“Because of public safety concerns, City Code has different requirements for demonstrating at the airport,” police said. “The group was asked to leave the airport and some of the demonstrators refused. Six individuals were arrested for Resist, Obstruct and Delay and Trespass.”
Petitions, other protests and reactions
Another protest was planned at noon in Chapel Hill at Peace and Justice Plaza.
Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement on Trump’s order on Twitter Sunday:
“The executive order issued by the president will make our homeland and our troops serving overseas less safe. Our vetting process has to be tough and thorough, but we should not impose a religious test to enter the country. It’s especially troubling that individuals who risked their lives to protect our troops and served alongside them are now being turned away. We can secure the safety of our country without separating families, hurting our businesses and turning away good people who need our help.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein released a statement on Facebook Sunday, gaining nearly 500 reactions, more than 80 shares and dozens of comments within two hours:
“America is a nation of immigrants. Throughout our history, we have welcomed people from foreign lands who seek a better life and in the process enrich the quality of ours. While some Americans were already here and others were brought here forcibly, millions of our ancestors came to this land to enjoy liberty and pursue happiness. We are the beneficiaries of their ambition and America’s tolerance.
“President Trump’s crude ban on refugees and on people from certain countries, including those who are already permanent residents or hold a green card, from entering the country is not who we are as a nation. It also puts us at greater risk.
“The human consequences are terrible – an Iraqi translator who served with American troops for a decade detained at JFK airport upon entry to the United States; a Clemson professor born in Iran who has a green card on the way back home to South Carolina from visiting family abroad yanked off a plane in Dubai; an Israeli Jew born in Yemen who has a green card uncertain if he can return home to the United States; a Syrian refugee family who had been vetted and was booked on a flight tomorrow to Chicago denied entry. The list goes on.
“Trump is doing immeasurable damage to our nation’s standing in the world – a source of our strength – and is putting us all in greater danger. Trump’s action signals to the world that America sees all Muslims as terrorists. In the process, he actually strengthens the hands of ISIS, making it easier for them to recruit new terrorists, and undermines the United States with our allies in the Middle East whose help we need to fight ISIS.”
Sen. Thom Tillis tweeted his response to the order Sunday afternoon.
“America has always been a home for refugees fleeing persecution and seeking freedom, and it should continue to be. It’s why I’ve been an outspoken supporter of programs like the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program, which allows Afghans who supported America’s mission in Afghanistan to apply for refuge in the United States.
“As we offer safety to refugees, we must also be mindful of the sad reality that radical Islamic terrorists are actively attempting to infiltrate refugee programs to enter Western nations. The FBI director has warned Congress that the United States lacks the capability to properly vet all Syrian refugees. This is a significant vulnerability and strengthening the screening of refugees is a matter of national security.
“While the executive order does take immediate action aimed at tightening the refugee screening process, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the order, particularly given the instances of green card holders inexplicably being denied entry back into the United States. Implementation of the order should be refined to provide more clarity and mitigate unintended consequences that do not make our country any safer.”
Rep. David Price, representing North Carolina’s fourth congressional district including parts of Wake, Orange and Durham counties tweeted his position on the ban Saturday:
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms Pres Trump's order on refugees, which flies in the face of all we hold dear as Americans.”
Rep. Richard Hudson, representing North Carolina’s eighth congressional district, also released a statement:
“At a time of grave security threats, President Trump is right to pause the flow of refugees from countries where terrorism is rampant until we can properly vet them and implement additional screening for individuals traveling to and from these countries. The facts are President Obama’s own intel official told us ISIS is trying to infiltrate the refugee program and his Homeland Security Secretary and FBI Director told us we can’t properly vet all of these refugees. I do have concerns that the executive order has caused confusion for those with green cards and will work with my colleagues and the administration to clarify it.”
State Rep. Rodney Moore, whose district includes parts of Mecklenburg County, tweeted his reaction Sunday:
“Trump's immigration ban undermines the core values and spirit of our Democracy. We are a Nation of immigrants. That is what makes America.”
Wake County Commissioner John Burns and Durham City Councilman Charlie Reece also spoke out against the ban on Twitter. Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin also spoke against the ban and praised those joining protests.
As of about noon Sunday, Sen. Richard Burr had yet to weigh in on Trump’s ban, despite requests and demands from constituents on social media.
Businesses also began to weigh in on the executive order on Sunday:
Red Hat released a statement on its website:
“Red Hat and our global economy benefit from immigration laws that both seek to protect the public and recognize that we have diverse backgrounds.
“We are looking carefully at Friday's U.S. executive order on immigration and how it will be implemented. From what we see so far, we are concerned that the changes are inconsistent with Red Hat's values, including diversity.
“Red Hat is strong because of the thousands of diverse voices that comprise our company. Our continued work to advance the technology industry depends greatly on our ability to attract the best and brightest talent from around the world.”
Protesters also took to social media not only to organize, but to promote their growing presence at the airport Sunday afternoon.
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett