Thousands of peaceful protesters at the Atlanta airport joined demonstrators around the nation on Sunday in calling for an end to an executive order by President Donald Trump they said imperils the lives of refugees, and discriminates against Muslims trying to enter the United States.
In charged rhetoric — including chants of “No KKK, no fascist USA! No Trump!” — demonstrators denounced the executive action signed by the president on Friday. The order temporarily bars people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, imposes a four-month ban on the resettlement of any refugees and indefinitely ended resettlement of refugees from war-torn Syria.
The vast majority of the protest at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport took place outside the Domestic terminal as protesters took over an island in the road to Domestic Terminal South and briefly marched inside the baggage claim area while being escorted by police. Cars honked in support as protesters lined both sides of the street.
An hour before the scheduled start to the rally, a few dozen protesters soon morphed into hundreds and then thousands. The crowd beat drums and chanted “Love trumps hate!” and “No hate, no fear. Everyone is welcome here” as some disoriented passengers weaved their way, luggage in tow, through the crowd.
Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta attorney who is also with the Atlanta NAACP, said demonstrators gathered to stand up for fundamental American rights and values.
“We want to make our voices heard so that we take not one step back,” he said into a megaphone.
A federal judge in New York issued a ruling partially blocking the order, and allowing those in transit with green cards to be released. In Atlanta, 11 were temporarily detained at Hartsfield-Jackson before being released late Saturday night.
Sarah Owings, the chairwoman of the Georgia and Alabama chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said a court might have temporarily stayed the order, but demonstrators need to be vigilant because the battle for immigrant rights is far from over.
“It is racism. It is discrimination, and it is absolutely unconstitutional,” Owings said of the Trump executive action.
On Sunday morning, Trump went to Twitter to defend his executive order.
“Our country needs strong boarders and extreme vetting, NOW,” he said. “Look what is happening all over Europe and, indeed, the world – a horrible mess!”
Airport spokesman Reese McCranie said that police on site estimated the crowd to be as large as 5,000 to 7,000. No arrests were made.
The march at the world’s busiest airport marked the second straight weekend of demonstrations in Atlanta. Last weekend, more than 60,000 descended on downtown Atlanta calling for equality for women as part of a chain of protests in major cities that collectively drew millions across the nation the day after Trump was inaugurated as president.
The Atlanta airport rally also followed protests outside airports across the country Saturday night that drew thousands to protest the detention of immigrants with legal status as they tried to return to homes in the U.S.
Trump’s order applies to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
A number of speakers, including mayoral candidate Vincent Fort, a Democratic state senator from Atlanta, called on Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to designate the city as a “sanctuary city” to afford more rights to immigrants and other minorities.
Other prominent politicians in attendance included U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, and state House Speaker Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta.
“We need Atlanta to become a sanctuary city so our immigrant, Muslim, black, queer and trans, poor, and homeless community members can live their lives in this city free from fear and with full guarantee for their human rights,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South.
As night fell, three Muslim women placed their cardboard signs on the concrete outside the terminal and bowed for their evening prayers, a peaceful visage amid drums, whistles, chants and car horns.
Inside the main domestic terminal, Skye Passmore held a sign reading: “Welcome home Muslim friends” as travelers made their way to the security checkpoints and Delta Air Lines baggage claim.
“Our symbol, the Statue of Liberty, is a welcoming symbol to immigrants. [Trump] has gone against every value we have as Americans. We won’t stop fighting,” he said.
Some protesters also assembled at the International terminal.
About a dozen people had gathered with signs to greet arriving passengers. Police told them to move up a level to a designated assembly area. Some passengers stopped to speak and to give hugs.
Brian F. O’Byrne, a naturalized citizen from Ireland, said he was one of the protesters asked to move. He said he asked what law he’d broken.
They said he had to change the message on his sign, which was a paper bag. O’Byrne tore off the part that said “I am an immigrant” and left the bottom that was a heart and “welcome.”
“It’s offensive to say I’m an immigrant? I’m here to welcome people,” he said.