Anti-Immigration Protests

Friday, the president signed an executive order banning people from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran from being admitted to the country, even those with green cards and visas. On Saturday evening, I was browsing Facebook when I came across an event at Logan Airport, protesting the detention of passengers by Customs and Border Patrol. My partner and I immediately headed to the airport to join the protest. Our shuttle bus to the airport had maybe two people on it who were heading to the airport to catch flights. Everyone else was headed to the international terminal to protest. When we reached the midway point on the shuttle trip, where they switch the buses from overhead power to gas-powered engines, a supervisor came onto the bus, had a short word with the driver and then asked if there were any passengers headed to Terminal E (the international terminal). He then told us that we would have to walk from the nearest airport terminal because transportation to Terminal E had been shut down due to the protest. As he finished his short speech, he said “And I hope you have to walk through the whole airport!” At first, my partner was unsure if he was being critical of the protest, but then realized that he was saying that he hoped there was a mass of people walking throughout all the terminals carrying signs protesting the detention that was currently going on.

As we walked through Terminal C to our destination, we passed people who had arrived through the international terminal who were making the opposite trek as us. Many of them made positive comments about the protest and thanked us for joining. One guy gave me a high five. Of course, there were a couple people, able bodied white men of course, who complained bitterly of having to walk through the terminal because of the “damn protest”. When we reached Terminal E, there were probably about 400-500 people gathered there, speakers passing around a megaphone, the crowd repeating what they said so the people at the edges could hear what was going on. More and more people continued to pack in behind us. The state police were present, occasionally asking us to move back from the path from Customs and Border Patrol to the exit so that passengers could get through, but otherwise not saying much. There was a loud cheer when it was announced that a federal judge in the state had issued a stay of the president’s executive order, but quickly a reminder came through that we couldn’t stop protesting until all passengers who had been detained were released.

Elizabeth Warren was present and had made a speech before we arrived. Sometime after the announcement of the stay, Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston, also made a speech. The protest continued as detained passengers were slowly reunited with their families. When the last detainee was escorted through Customs and Border Patrol by the mayor there was a tremendous energy and lots of cheering. After someone announced that there were buses waiting outside to take us back to the train station and asked us to remain peaceful as we exited the airport, my partner and I made out way outside to cram onto a very full shuttle back to the subway to take us home. Again, the bus was mostly full of protestors. I was exhausted but felt like we had made a difference for the night.

The next day, we headed to Copley Square with our neighbors to the immigration protest being held there. The subway station at Copley Square was shut down, so we walked from Park Street to get there, following a continuous stream of people headed to the protest. We got as close to Copley as we could, packing in with the other people who had gathered before us. I heard estimates put the crowd at 20,000 people that day. At first I couldn’t really anything or see what was going on, but as the crowd changed, I was able to get a spot on the stone wall where we were and then I could see above the crowd into the square. The energy was high that day, filled with people chanting and holding up homemade signs.

Since then, I have heard too many accounts of airports throughout the country refusing detainees to meet with lawyers even though federal court orders have been issued ordering them to do so. People have been detained for long periods of time, children separated from their parents for hours. A five year old boy was separated from his mother because he was deemed to be a risk to the country. An eleven month old who was still being breast-fed was separated from her mother for hours. A mother and her two young children were detained for twenty hours without being given anything to eat. And a woman who had lived in the US since 1995 and had a green card was turned away from a terminal in Iraq. She had become ill during her family’s trip. Her son says she knew, as she was being taken back to the hospital in Iraq, that she was going to die. She died a day after being refused the ability to board a plane back to her home.

I’d never been to a protest before Saturday night. I’d always been too scared to go out with everyone else. Scared of violence, of the risk of getting arrested. I don’t know what changed on Saturday to give me the courage to go to the airport, but something happened and I couldn’t stay silent any longer. It was exhilarating though. My usual phobia of crowds didn’t overwhelm me, even while packed into the airport terminal with hundreds of other people. Maybe it was the collective purpose, the fact that everyone there was there for the same reason I was, but I didn’t panic and my anxiety level stayed manageable. Even the shuttle ride back to the train station and the train home on Sunday didn’t bother me when in the past crowded transportation has caused major panic. So while I don’t know what exactly allowed me to engage in the protests this weekend, I plan on continuing to raise my voice in the following weeks and months. This upcoming weekend there are more rallies I plan on attending and I’m excited to be present.

A protester holds a sign during the protest at Copley Square as protesters gathered in opposition to President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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