Protesters at Ford Airport: ‘Refugees welcome’

immigration, refugees, executive orders, protest, Gerald R. Ford International Airport
People gather at Gerald R. Ford International Airport to protest President Donald Trump's executive orders regarding immigration. (Jan. 29, 2017)


CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Gerald R. Ford International Airport Sunday afternoon to show their disapproval of President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several nations.

Around 3 p.m., people lined up near the entrance to the airport near Grand Rapids, then marched toward the drop-off area for the terminals. They overflowed into the arrival and departure traffic lanes. Security blocked off those lanes and cars were diverted to the shuttle lane.

Protesters carried signs that read, “Refugees welcome,” “Let them in,” and “History will judge us,” among other things. They sang the folk song “This Land is Your Land.”

The rally was among many that have been staged nationwide since the president signed the executive order stopping citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all predominantly Muslim nations — from entering the United States for 90 days and suspending the U.S. refugee program for 120 days.

“They need to have better life, better opportunity and there they can’t,” protester Ali Warsame, a Somali refugee, said. “I used to be in their shoes. I know how it feels like and I know I was waiting for a long process to come to U.S.A.”

“I went through the process and it was already too hard even before the ban. And we spent like a year waiting for the visas, separated, each one of us in a different country. And I can’t believe people who are in this situation and the ban, they cannot come here anymore,” Syrian refugee Leila Alattar said.

Janice Barbee, a foster parent who cares for unaccompanied refugee children from Central America, said many refugee kids are escaping oppression and violence and have been waiting for years to come to the U.S. She said it’s unfair to keep them from seeking freedom and a safer life.

“Each person has their own horrific journey and have been and have been traumatized in really indescribable ways,” Barbee said.

“You’re taking children have already been traumatized and further traumatizing them,” added Erin Wolohan, a Kentwood teacher who works with refugees.

“A third-grader that I work with who’s from Nepal … was just telling me on Friday about how his father is coming to the U.S. on Tuesday and so I instantly thought of him,” Rita Pohlad, another teacher who works with refugee children, said of hearing about the ban.

Trump on Sunday defended the ban by arguing that it is similar to one enacted by President Barack Obama in 2011, “when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”

“The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror,” a statement from the president read in part. “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”

The protest at Ford Airport concluded around the scheduled time of 5 p.m. Earlier in the day, the airport said in a post on its Facebook page that it had met with protest organizers and set aside an area for the demonstration. It did not anticipate any affect on flights.

Also Sunday, there was a protest at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where the Associated Press reports that hundreds of people chanted “no ban, no wall” and “no hate, no fear; refugees are welcome here.” Organizer Stephanie Kenner told the AP that while she didn’t think the rally would change the president’s mind, she thought it may annoy him.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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