Protesters challenge Trump’s refugee ban at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

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Fatima Nidali-Levens, center, claps alongside protesters at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Sunday afternoon. The demonstration was held in solidarity with several occupations in airports across the country.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Ashley Fosshath’s grandmother may pass away before Fosshath can visit her in Iran because of President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants of certain countries.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Fosshath, a pharmacy graduate student. “I feel like we’re all just in a state of shock. This man has the potential to separate family members and Muslims for a long time.”

Fosshath and other Austinites huddled in front of the pickup lane at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Sunday afternoon to protest Trump’s travel ban signed Friday. 

Children on parents’ shoulders held up neon and cardboard signs saying “#NoBanNoWall” as Muslim immigrants and sons and daughters of refugees shared personal stories of hardship. Protesters circled around those who talked about the uncertainty of seeing family members. 

Other minority groups such as Mexican Americans, Native Americans and LGBT people expressed sympathy and chanted “all walls must go, from Palestine to Mexico.” Cars passing by honked in agreement and protesters cheered in thanks.

Trump’s order barred refugees of seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days. On Saturday, a federal judge placed a stay on the ban, temporarily halting the deportation of refugees who would have otherwise not been allowed in the U.S. under this order, but some were stuck at U.S. airports, unsure if they could stay.

On Sunday UT President Gregory Fenves sent an email to the campus community stating the University’s support for the “110 students, faculty and scholars who are citizens of the seven affected countries.”

According to the Austin Police Department, there were no detainees at Bergstrom, but for those such as Kuhali Kundu, who emigrated from Iran in 1994, the anxiety and fear of not seeing their family members has not eased.

“It’s hitting so much closer to home than I ever thought it was going to,” Kundu said. “My sister lives in the Middle East right now and my niece was born in a Middle-Eastern country. We have to think twice now when we travel or when we come here. It’s very stressful.”

Kundu, an OBGYN at Emory University, held a sign saying “we are all immigrants” and said she may not be able to see her sister who studied abroad, as well as her brother-in-law who worked in Iraq.

“I don’t know how it’s going to affect them,” Kundu said.

UT alumnus Alex Amarasena said they moved from Sri Lanka with their family in 1998 and said their life would’ve been different otherwise. Amarasena said they are gay and being a double minority is even more challenging now.

“It’s completely racist just classifying a whole group of people and putting them in a box,” Amarasena said. “The refugee vetting process and immigrant vetting process is already very thorough enough.”

Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza spoke to the circle of immigration rights activists, Austinites and Middle Eastern families at the airport. This month, Casar said the Council will restructure its budget to set aside money to aid refugees and immigrants, eliciting applause and hollers.

“They’d want me to utilize the … local government to support local people,” Casar said. “That’s, one, through supporting their First Amendment right to protest and second support through pushing measures that protect immigrants (and) stand for refugees.”