Throngs of noisy demonstrators -- and scores of lawyers -- poured into Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Sunday to show support for immigrants impacted by President Donald Trump’s contentious travel restrictions.
Similar protests were taking place outside the White House and across the United States as outrage grew over Trump’s executive order, signed on Friday, that imposed sweeping restrictions on some travellers to the country.
Saif Rahman, a 38-year-old Iraqi-born US citizen who lives in Virginia, had just flown into Dulles from Istanbul, via Frankfurt. He said two border agents were waiting as people got off the plane.
About 16 people, including him, were called in for additional screening but he was let through fairly quickly.
“I just hope that we can pass this difficult period while maintaining our values as a country,” Rahman said.
Trump’s executive order suspended the arrival of all refugees for at least 120 days, Syrian refugees indefinitely -- and bars citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
With each new international arrival at Dulles, whoops of support erupted from a crowd of up to some 400 people gathered at the exit point from US customs.
People handed out flowers and food, waved greeting signs and chanted slogans, including: “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” and “Let them in! Let them in!”
It was unclear if, or how many, travellers had been detained at Dulles.
Four congressmen said they had been refused access to the area where the travellers would be held, a move lawyers said was in contempt of a court order issued late Saturday.
“The executive order is terrible, it’s bad and we are going to fight it,” Democratic representative John Delaney said. Trump should “realise the error in his ways, which is something I believe he is incapable of doing, and reverse this thing,” Delaney added.
Julia Mendelson, 31, came to protest with her mother. “I had family killed in the Holocaust, and I think it’s shameful to have any ban on immigration,” she said. “When you see injustice, it’s important to stand up and do whatever possible.”
Outside the White House, thousands gathered to express their anger at Trump’s move.
Khadija Shakour, an American Muslim, said the order was unconstitutional.
“It’s wrong, it’s hateful, it’s bigotry,” she said. “He says it’s not a Muslim ban. It is a Muslim ban, especially when you say, ‘I’m gonna look after the Christians,’“ Shakour added, referring to Trump saying his plan favoured Christian refugees.
Trump’s executive order has already faced legal setbacks and lawyers around the country are massing in person and online to lend pro-bono support to those whose lives have been upended by the travel ban.
Kate Belinski, a Washington attorney who specialises in political law, was one of about 100 lawyers who showed up at Dulles to offer support. Several volunteer interpreters were also present to lend their help.
Many attorneys held bright signs offering legal advice to anyone who had been detained or for their relatives.
Belinski called it “unconscionable” to turn back travellers who have already undergone the laborious, and often years-long process of getting visas.
“It is completely beyond the pale, I never would fathom that this could be happening,” Belinski said. “I am concerned this could be an incremental step. It’s got to be stopped so it doesn’t go further.”