CHICAGO — They hopped on the Blue Line and rode to O’Hare with a sense of urgency.
“We have to use the one right we have left-freedom of speech ” said one young woman as she got off the train to join about 1,000 protesters Jan. 28 at the international airport.
Chants of “Let them in!” and “No hate, no fear, refugees welcome here!” echoed outside and throughout Terminal 5 where more than a dozen people from seven Muslim-majority countries, banned from entering the country by President Donald Trump’s executive order, were being detained. An 81-year-old woman and an Iranian woman, a legal resident, with her 18-month-old toddler, a U.S. citizen, were among the detained.
Chicagoans held handmade signs that read “This is un-American,” ” No ban. No wall,” “Immigrants welcome” and “Ban the ban.”
Sporting a pink knit cap, known as the “pussyhat” worn at the Jan. 21 mega-women’s marches, Heidi Gustad from the Back of the Yards neighborhood worried about the children of Mexican immigrants who she had worked with as a librarian. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the kids.”
Thousands converged on O’Hare and other airports to protest the ban on visitors and refugees from the seven countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. Protests grew throughout the weekend.
Another Heidi, but with the last name Dweydari, turned 21-years-old the day Trump signed his most controversial executive order to date. Referred to as the Muslim ban, Trump signed the “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” on Jan. 27. Dweydari, a U.S. citizen with Syrian roots, waved the “Free Syria” flag, which represents the opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, while her father carried the American flag. Dweydari said her entire family, with the exception of one sibling, was at the airport to protest.
“No human is supposed to be illegal,” said Dweydari, a student who is studying sign language translation. In addition to English and Arabic, Dweydari speaks Turkish.
Her father, who owns a car dealership, said he left Syria 30 years ago and finds the order an attack on Syrians and all immigrants. “Everybody deserves freedom. If I was stuck outside the United States, I’d be in trouble right now.”
Mazen Asbahi, a lawyer and second-generation Syrian American and Muslim, said Trump’s order is “unAmerican and runs counter to the values of this nation.”
Syrian immigrants have been making their way to Chicago since the 19th century, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. Not one Syrian refugee has been responsible for a single terrorist attack on U.S. soil from 1975 to 2015, according to research done by the conservative Cato Institute.
Surveys of fatal terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, starting with 9/11, show that zero were committed by immigrants from the seven banned nations. But wealthier nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon, whose citizens were responsible for Sept. 11 and other attacks, were left off the list of banned nations. Trump also has business ties with these countries.
The weekend protests reflected a large, politically and demographically diverse section of the American population who stood in opposition to the latest presidential action, saying it will not make the country safer. Democrats joined new and veteran activists at the demonstrations, and in some cases initiated the actions. Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi invited all lawmakers to join them tonight at the Supreme court to show solidarity with legal attempts to block the ban. Other lawmakers are considering introducing legislation to overturn the president’s order.
But Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only elected Republicans to speak out. In a joint statement, they expressed concern at the improper vetting of the order and lack of consultation that caused chaos at the airports. Homeland Security agents improperly detained or prohibited travellers from entering the U.S., including foreign students and legal U.S. residents. One Iraqi detained had served beside American forces for 10 years.
Most Republicans have benefited from the misinformed hysteria. In 2015, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said the state would stop taking Syrian refugees and has refused to take a stand on the immigration ban.
The American Civil Liberties Union brought an emergency lawsuit on behalf of two men, including the Iraqi who had worked with American military, being held at New York’s JFK airport.
In response, a New York federal judge issued a temporary order late Saturday night prohibiting the federal government from deporting people subject to the president’s order, which covered an estimated 100 to 200 people being detained at the nation’s airports.
Habib Ali, who was with his family outside O’Hare’s Terminal 5, said he is Muslim American originally from India and felt like “the entire Muslim community is under siege.”
“If we don’t stop it now they will come after more minorities,” he said.
Indeed, the sense of urgency in stopping this order pervaded the protest. Pawel Grajnert, 53, carried the Polish flag. With a tear running down his cheek, he told the story of his parents being World War II refugees.
He shook with anger as he talked about the injustice of Trump’s order. “How dare they? U.S. policies have made their world hell and now this order says ‘sorry you have to go back to hell’? These are Americans — green card holders, dual passport holders. Where is their due process? Where is Congress? What are they waiting for? How much of our rights have to be taken away?”
Grajnert said the protests were important because they would “get a lot of attention and get lawyers in there to help.”
He said he was going to stay home and watch TV with his three year old son but chose to protest the refugee and Muslim ban instead.
“I’d be watching Star Trek. Now instead this is my life,” he said.