Protests erupted nationwide in the wake of an executive order from President Donald Trump that bars citizens from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States for 90 days and suspends the admission of refugees for 120 days.
Airports around the country, including Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport, were crowded with thousands of protesters on Sunday. At BWI, Jewish communal officials, members of Congress and elected officials were among the demonstrators.
“I think people are concerned that [the executive order] is potentially unconstitutional and is fundamentally out of step with the values we want to project around the world,” said Congressman John Sarbanes, who, along with Congressman Elijah Cummings, addressed the crowd at BWI.
Just three days earlier, more than 200 people gathered at the Salem-Baltimore Hispanic United Methodist Church in Highlandtown for a solidarity vigil in support of immigrants, Muslims and refugees led by the Baltimore Jewish Council, CASA de Maryland, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Jews United for Justice (JUFJ).
A federal judge in New York issued an emergency stay on Jan. 28 that temporarily allowed people who traveled to the U.S. with a valid visa to remain, following a petition by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Sameer Abdulkhalq Alshawi following their detainment upon arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
According to the ACLU’s website, “The lead plaintiffs have been detained by the U.S. government and threatened with deportation even though they have valid visas to enter the United States. One plaintiff, Hameed Darweesh, an Iraqi husband and father of three, worked for the U.S. military [as a translator], and his life was in danger in Iraq due to that relationship. [Alshawi’s] wife and son were threatened because of their perceived ties to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained both men in JFK Airport in New York as they entered the country.”
At the Highlandtown church gathering on Jan. 26, Maya Perez, an immigrant from Mexico and a member of CASA de Maryland, spoke about how her parents came to the U.S. illegally. “Everything I am, the reason I am here right now, is thanks to my dad,” she said. “Our parents decided to leave their countries, their homes, not knowing what would happen to them.”
This spur-of-the-moment gathering and another protest in Annapolis on the morning of Jan. 27 called on Gov. Larry Hogan to reject the implementation of the ban in Maryland as well as to support the Maryland TRUST Act, legislation that would prevent police in Maryland from continuing to detain individuals once they are eligible for release if continued detention is only for the purpose of assisting federal immigration enforcement efforts, according to the ACLU.
“It’s not just citizens who have equal protection under law, it is all people in the country,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore director of JUFJ. “When people who are undocumented fear that involvement of police will result in deportation or the loss of their livelihood or even physical danger, they are unlikely to go to the police. It puts them in an incredibly vulnerable position where they can easily be taken advantage of. This law creating a separation between police and immigration is critical to protecting people’s rights.”
Madeline Suggs, director of public affairs for the Baltimore Jewish Council, attended both protests and addressed the crowd in Annapolis. She shared that after the two bomb threats to the Park Heights JCC, the first people that she heard from were members of the Muslim community. The BJC received phone calls as well as two dozen letters from Muslim elementary school students to show their support.
“We really wanted to return that support on Thursday and Friday,” said Suggs. “It is really important to stand with all of these minorities that are feeling scared.”
The BJC’s statement on the Muslim ban reflected this sentiment and said, “We believe the United States has a moral and historical obligation to create a welcoming environment for individuals and families looking to start a new life after suffering atrocities in their native countries. Laws that implicitly target specific religious groups should be avoided to the greatest extent possible, and we stand with our friends and neighbors in the Muslim community who are concerned about the effect this ban will have on refugees suffering violence abroad.”
Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who also attended the BWI protest, felt similarly.
“I think people are really upset at the xenophobia and at the ham-handedness by which this administration rolled out its changes,” she said. “I understand people’s security concerns, but I have a hard time believing that when it’s mostly women and children, the two-year vetting process they go through isn’t enough to give us security.”
Andrew Miller, who helped spur others to attend the BWI protest, said there was a strong Jewish presence, with a number of people wearing kippot.
“I think it is vital to be involved,” he said. “If we start to differentiate between refugees based on their country or religion, we aren’t adhering to Jewish values or human rights. It is an outrage to the fundamental values on which this country was founded.”