Nearly 5,000 people flooded the Philadelphia International Airport Sunday afternoon to denounce President Donald Trump’s executive order indefinitely barring Syrian refugees and suspending citizens and refugees from six other Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for at least 90 days.
Organized on Facebook, the protest outside Terminal A overflowed the International Arrivals Hall and brought traffic into the airport to a halt as police and security had to cut access to entrances and roadways for the sheer number of people.
The protest was in response to the previous night, when two Syrian refugee families had flown from Beirut to Doha, Qatar, to Philadelphia to meet with their relatives, who live in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Originally from Damascus, the Christian families — two brothers and their wives and children — arrived at Philadelphia International Airport Saturday morning, just one day after Trump signed his executive order banning refugees from their home country. They were approved to enter the United States in 2015, obtained immigrant visas and were approved for green cards.
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But Customs and Border Protection officials denied the refugees entry. An agent told Sarah Assali, a relative of the families, that their paperwork wasn’t valid. The families were sent back to Qatar on a flight later Saturday morning.
Christine Flowers, a prominent conservative columnist for Philly.comand an immigration attorney in Philadelphia, denounced the executive order, calling it "poorly written and poorly implemented," adding that it likely violates the Constitution.
"I am very pro-life. And I see this as a continuum of the whole ethic of being pro-life," Flowers told Metro Philadelphiaat the demonstration. "When you turn refugees away —particularly those who are coming from Syria, from the Sudan, from the countries that are on the banned list — that’s not a pro-life ethic."
In a recent column, Flowers picked on Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, including his renewed promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and threats to defund sanctuary cities, like Philadelphia.
On Sunday, Flowers, who has more than two decades of experience in refugee law and asylum, said she was attending the protest at the airport to link with fellow lawyers and offer her pro bono services.
"We have to care about people, whether they are in the womb, or they are out and they need our help," she added.
Inside the airport, two medical students from Thomas Jefferson University shared their parents' stories of escaping to the United States.
Keyur Patel and Dan Vari, both 26, held coordinating signs: "son of immigrants" and "son of refugees."
Vari's Hungarian parents escaped Communism in the 1980s. Patel's came from India during the same decade.
Comparing the post-9/11 fear many Americans displayed for people of Middle Eastern origin, Vari said the sentiment now, under Trump's executive order, is very different.
"I think after 9/11 there was a different flavor to the country, there were targeted pat-downs and things like that, but overall as a country we came together and agreed that America's special," Vari said.
"Something like this is the exact opposite of that flavor," he added, calling the ban on Middle Eastern and African refugees and immigrants "divisive" and exclusionary.
Patel echoed that sentiment, saying that he was still in grade school during the 9/11 attacks, but saw his parents' fear of being Middle Eastern in appearance.
"I'm about to graduate medical school and become a professional, and I don't know how people will treat me because they'll look at me and profile me before they get a chance to listen to me," he said.
"It's a very different battle, but it's still a battle," Patel said.
Protesters stand in PHL Arrivals after police ask them to leavePosted by Metro Philly on Sunday, January 29, 2017