In the late hours of Jan. 28, lawyers and law students were sprawled on the floor of Terminal Four of John F. Kennedy International Airport, huddled over their computers. Some had been there since the night before when Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13769.
Infamously known as the Refugee and Muslim Ban, this order halted all immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and refugee resettlement for 120 days. Foreign nationals, U.S. permanent residents and visa-holders, refugees cleared for resettlement and even citizens were detained at airports. The ban was issued as thousands of these individuals were in flight to the U.S. with no protocols for immediate enforcement. Upon arrival, they were suspended in legal limbo: Neither airport personnel nor Customs and Border Patrol agents knew what to do.
At JFK, two Iraqi refugees who previously worked on behalf of the U.S. were in detention. The International Refugee Assistance Project, a student organization founded at Yale Law School, issued a call for legal help.
Dozens of lawyers responded and arrived to secure the release of one refugee. Outside of the airport, over a thousand protesters came to support the remaining detainees. Both groups were affirming the values of welcome and hospitality inscribed on the Statue of Liberty located less than an hour’s drive away. Later that night, a New York federal judge issued a ruling that prevented the deportation of those who had arrived while they were in transit. It was the beginning of an ongoing battle over the ban’s legality.
I was one of the protesters outside of Terminal Four. As I chanted “No hate, no fear, refugees and immigrants are welcome here!” I remembered arriving as a 3-year-old refugee in spring of 2001. It was a peaceful reunion with my grandparents. There were no protesters rallying in support of my family because America’s refugee policy was welcoming.
In the year that I came to the U.S., there were 12 million refugees in the world, and the refugee resettlement quota was set at 80,000 according to the United Nations. Since 2001, that number has increased to about 60 million people, but Trump has nearly halved the resettlement quota to 45,000. This figure is an all-time low.
Those currently most at risk of detention and deportation are already in the U.S. Inhumane immigration policy has worsened under the Trump administration. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over the past year, 226,000 undocumented immigrants have been deported, in part because of the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the elimination of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric has also emboldened ICE to target those they haven’t in the past. This includes parents, children and those willing to risk voluntary check-ins.
Still, our communities have come together to build the solidarity needed to create a sanctuary for all refugees and immigrants. Right here in New Haven, we have run in the snow to fundraise for Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, held dance parties to support DACA renewals and the Immigrant Bail Fund, phone banked in attempts to Free Melecio and rallied with Unidad Latina en Acción against the deportations of Nury Chavarría, Marco Reyes and now Nelson Pinos.
A year after the ban, our work has more urgency. Congress is considering a bill that would be the largest
restriction on all immigration since the 1920s. The bill seeks to eliminate means to family reunification, halve the number of people receiving asylum and build a border wall. What it does not do is provide
pathways to residency and citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
Further TPS cuts are anticipated for the remaining seven programs. According to the Department of Homeland Security, if TPS for Syrians expires on March 31, then Congress has until Jan. 31 to renew it. If they do not, then about 7,000 people will lose their legal status in the U.S. and will be deported.
I want to live in an America where people don’t fear a knock on the door or a piece of paper sending them back to an unsafe country. It has become clear that we cannot count on the Trump administration and Congress to build this America for us. Together, we must continue bailing immigrants out of detention, building sanctuary networks and welcoming all who reach our soil. In this moment, our political commitment to refugees and immigrants — and to each other — cannot waver.
Join us on Sunday, Jan. 28 at 6:00 p.m. on Cross Campus for a vigil in support of refugees and immigrants. It will be followed by a benefit concert at 7:00 p.m. in Battell Chapel for IRIS and the National TPS Alliance. Refugees and immigrants are still welcome here.
Trinh Truong is a junior in Saybrook College. She is the Director of Advocacy and Awareness for the Yale Refugee Project. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .