President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven predominately Muslim countries impacts people around the world. It’s perhaps felt most poignantly at the International Arrivals area of Dulles Airport.
Protesters have made themselves highly visible there, denouncing Trump and holding colorful signs welcoming travelers. The mood has generally been congenial, appearing more like a wedding’s reception line than as a hostile crowd of protesters. Since the order came down Jan. 27, hundreds cycled through the airport, denouncing Trump and holding colorful signs welcoming travelers. They set up a stand with free water bottles and granola bars. Children passed out doughnut holes through the crowds.
There were balloons and fliers, and most of all cheers of welcome for arriving travelers. The recipients typically replied with a bewildered expression or a jetlagged grin.
Interspersed between the signs were ACLU watchdogs and signs offering free legal help for immigrants. Some confused family members waited for hours, disoriented, as loved ones were questioned or detained by security personal at Dulles. A few witnesses said several people were held for 20 hours without food or water, though this could not be corroborated. It had been three days since the order was issued, but no one could say how many people were detained, or who exactly was subject to the ban.
Green card holders, legal resident aliens who had already gone through a vetting process, as well as some visa holders, were not initially exempt from the ban as enforced at Dulles. At least two men, brothers arriving from Yemen, were denied legal counsel as they signed away their green cards, according to their lawyers. They said their clients were subsequently redirected to Ethiopia.
Catherine Bernard with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Collation said that travelers from some of the countries included the ban were denied lawyers in violation of a temporary restraining order issued Jan. 28. by Judge Leonie Brinkema of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Bernard said she’s working to keep this from happening to anyone else.
“I want to look my daughter in the eye and tell her I did the right thing,” Bernard said.
Others openly expressed the anger that appeared to simmer beneath the welcome signs.
That included Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who visited Dulles Jan. 30 and condemned Trump’s actions.
“This executive order is an outrage to them and should be an outrage to all of us,” Kaine said on Jan. 30, in front of arriving travelers and sign holders.
Kaine had spent the early part of the day making stops throughout the Commonwealth to talk about changes to the Affordable Care Act. He said the conversations inevitably turned toward the ban. In Blacksburg, officials from Virginia Tech said 100 people were facing ramifications from the executive order.
Kaine told crowd at Dulles that in southwest Virginia, a family of six refugees had settled and become part of the community. That successful integration had inspired outreach to bring another family to the U.S.
He said that hoped-for journey from four years in a Syrian refugee camp to Roanoke was now in jeopardy.
“They are victims of the worst humanitarian crime, the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” Kaine said. “When has our nation, when we’ve been at our best, turned our back to the hard-hit victims of atrocities, rather than try to do what we can do to safely welcome them in?”
Kaine said the order, which Trump said was a necessary national security measure, was drafted by “political hacks” without understanding of national security or boarder issues. He railed about its implementation and said the ban was a religious test, “pure and simple.” Kaine vowed to fight it in courts, Congress and through public opinion.
Like much of the rest of the world, Kaine wasn’t sure of the details of Trump’s order. He told the crowd that while the order still stands, green card and visa holders should now be able to travel to the U.S., but they could still be held for questioning. He believed no one else was still being detained at Dulles.
Rizwan Jaka, a leader of one of the nation’s largest mosques, the Sterling-based ADAMS Center, said he came to Dulles to defend American values and rights that were trampled by this order. He was emboldened by the hundreds of others who gathered there to do the same.
“That’s the true spirit of America,” Jaka said. “The wonderful support of civic activists that are here, that are speaking out, welcoming everyone, showing the true spirit of America. That’s beautiful. That gives us hope.”