President Donald Trump’s immigration ban was temporarily halted last weekend after a federal appeals court denied the administration’s request to resume his executive order, but Queens immigrant groups said they are remaining Vigilant in protecting undocumented members of their communities as the president mulls over his next move.
On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order that would prevent citizens from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. The order was greeted by protests across the nation, including a massive rally at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
But U.S. District Court Judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order on the travel ban on Feb. 3. The Justice Department filed a motion with the Ninth Circuit on the following day to request an emergency stay of the order, but it was denied.
Although the executive order has been halted for now, Queens immigrant advocacy groups said they were taking nothing for granted.
“It’s very unpredictable, what’s happening every single day,” said Naheed Bahram, program director for Fresh Meadows’ Women for Afghan Women, a women’s rights organization. “It’s hard to be prepared. We are standing with our immigrant sisters and brothers throughout the country. Afghanistan is not on [Trump’s] list, but many people are living in fear of being deported or not being able to travel, even though they have green cards.”
During the Jan. 28 protest at JFK, Bahram was the only Farsi-speaking translator at the scene to speak with the detainees. In the days since the protest and the halting of Trump’s executive orders, a staff attorney for Women for Afghan Women has spoken to Queens immigrants about their rights and whether they should travel. The organization currently has nearly 100 student immigrants who are attempting to obtain citizenship.
“The number of students who want to come and take our citizenship class has increased a lot in the last couple of weeks,” she said. “People who’ve been here for years all of a sudden want to become a citizen because they want to ensure they have a safe future here.”
Sudha Acharya, executive director for Flushing’s South Asian Council for Social Services, said the organization’s office has been flooded with calls since Trump signed the executive order.
“People are starting to think they should carry their green cards or passports with them everywhere,” she said. “People with valid visas are being questioned. We know that some of them have been sent back. There are people who want to go abroad, but are canceling or postponing.”
Antonio Meloni, executive director of Astoria’s Immigration Advocacy Services—which assists in obtaining permanent residency and citizenship—said he believes that the legal battle over Trump’s orders will not be resolved any time soon.
“It’s one of those things that will be contentious for a long time,” he said. “Attorneys general and groups will be fighting it on both sides. We probably won’t have a resolution for a long time. It’ll probably wind its way through the courts. For now, there’s a stop-gap.”
Luba Cortes, the youth organizer for Jackson Heights’ Make the Road New York, said immigration advocates are attempting to prepare for the Trump administration’s next steps.
“We are concerned that there is a possibility that Trump will find loopholes to continue [the ban],” she said. “We are strategizing on what to do for the next four years.”
Perla Lopez, a member and youth leader for Make the Road, moved to the United States from Mexico as a child. The college student said she is concerned for her family.
“I came here undocumented, but now I’m a resident,” she said. “But my stepdad and older brother are undocumented still. [Trump] promised that he was going to build a wall and deport a lot of immigrants. [This] has made my family so afraid to stay in this country. They don’t feel safe anymore.”
Father Patrick Keating, the CEO for Catholic Migration Services, which serves Queens and Brooklyn residents, said his organization has been holding weekly meetings in the two boroughs to provide up-to-date information for immigrants on their rights.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” he said. “We’re trying to be prepared, kind of like when you watch the news and hear there’s a storm coming. So, you want to have a plan A and plan B.”
Keating said he has also been insisting that people who might be affected by Trump’s order make multiple copies of important paperwork and be careful when choosing legal representation.
“Whatever documentation you have, make copies of it— carry one with you and have a spouse hold on to the other copy,” he said.
“Keep proof of your residency and be prepared and proactive. We’re also trying to help people from being taken advantage of. If you are seeking legal advice, make sure it’s from a reputable attorney or nonprofit.”
For the second weekend in a row, JFK was overtaken by protesters as scores of city Muslims and advocacy group members gathered at Terminal 4 to denounce Trump’s executive order.
The 90-minute protest, organized by the New York Immigration Council, included a tarp laid out to accommodate a traditional Jummah prayer. Muzna Ansari, the council’s immigration policy manager, said she’d seen tremendous support for the city’s Muslims across the five boroughs.
“We stand together— Muslims, immigrants, allies,” she said. “New York is home to four million immigrants, a home for refugees, a home for communities of color. It is a place of all backgrounds, where members of this community, of my community, stand together and protect one another.”
Suzanne Loebl, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and author, told the crowd at JFK the story of how she and her parents fled from Germany to Belgium after Adolf Hitler rose to power; they then moved to New York when she was 21. She said that the United States has a moral responsibility to extend the same hand that saved her life years ago.
“With their bags and bundles, they look as my family did when we tried to outrun the German Army as many other refugees did,” she said of the Syrian refugees fleeing their home country.
Tahanie Aboushi, a volunteer lawyer who has been on the front lines at JFK to assist immigrants who found themselves unable to enter the country, said that she and many of the lawyers who have camped out at the airport will continue to do so until the executive order is reversed.
“Thousands of lives have been thrown into chaos,” she said. “There’s rhetoric and there’s reality. The reality is the people who are affected by this ban have already been identified, verified, fingerprinted and granted approval by the Department of Homeland Security to enter the United States of America. If this executive order was meant to solve any immigration or security problems, it’s starting with the wrong people.”