Hundreds of protesters gathered in terminal four of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Sunday as part of a spontaneous, nationwide reaction to an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The executive order, which was signed two days ago, suspends the Syrian refugee program indefinitely while halting all immigrant travel from seven countries mentioned, which include Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, for the next 90 days.
Protesters voiced support for immigrants and refugees, holding signs that read, "Together, United, We'll Never Be Divided," "Build Bridges, Not Walls" and "This is What Democracy Looks Like."
The airport protest was a convergence of two planned events at the same location. The original protest was organized by the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyer Association.
Larry Sandigo, an attorney with the association said the event was to show solidarity with the refugees.
“We are ready to resist any edict that is against immigrants,” Sandigo said. “We are also here to show solidarity with the immigrant refugee community, and we are not going to abandon the American ideal that immigrants make America great.”
The second event was planned by Redeem Robinson, the director of Phoenix based group, the Empowerment Social Action Group. Robinson said he envisioned a more aggressive protest in response to the executive order.
“The whole point in coming out today is just to resist this administration, and its corrupt, racist executive order,” Robinson said. “I don’t think they went far enough though. If it was my plan, I would have blocked the streets and completely made sure that nobody was able to move.”
Robinson said that beyond protesting he aimed to move a level higher to disrupt and agitate.
“This was a good place for people to speak out about what they care about,” Robinson said. “But now we need to take it a step higher, we need to agitate.”
A group of counter-protesters attended the demonstration but were quickly moved to another area by police.
Kousha Kalantari, an electrical engineering doctoral student at ASU, said he was directly affected by the executive order because he moved to Arizona from Iraq for his college studies.
“I want to be able to see my parents again,” Kalantari said. “The way it is now my parents cannot come see me, and I cannot leave now without being afraid of not being able to come back.”
For Kalantari, this executive order could make his studies at ASU the last reason to stay in America.
“If this stays the way it is, I will finish my studies and get my Ph.D as fast as I can, then leave and never come back for anything,” Kalantari said.
Deborah Ostreicher, a spokesperson for Sky Harbor, said a permit was filed for approximately 50 people, adding that the actual attendance of the demonstration exceeded 500 people.
Ostreicher said no one affected by the ban was being held in the airport at the time.
“No one being held in our customs and immigrations office is being held as a result of this order,” Ostreicher said. “We don’t expect any either, because all of our non-stop flights are from London, and we don’t expect any refugees from London.”
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