Farhat Mir stood with his family Sunday near the Southwest Airlines check-in counter at Albany International Airport and held a sign in support of refugees.
Mir lives in Albany, but is originally from Kashmir, a region in the Himalayas that for decades has been the subject of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.
“It makes my heart swell with joy,” he said, looking out at a crowd of protesters opposing a recent executive order from President Donald Trump. “All ethnicities, religious groups and nationalities are what make this country great.”
Hundreds of protesters at Albany International Airport joined others around the country who rallied over the weekend in opposition to an executive order signed Friday by President Donald Trump banning refugees and citizens from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States. The event started at 11 a.m. and continued for a few hours as attendees cheered, chanted and spoke about the importance of diversity and acceptance.
It was the second weekend in a row thousands of rally-goers mobilized across the country in response to the new administration.
At the rally's peak, at least 300 people gathered on the first floor of the Albany airport. Some spoke into a megaphone about how they or their loved ones had immigrated to the United States. Others crafted homemade signs reading “Embrace Refugees,” “No Ban No Wall” and “Albany for Refugees.”
The crowd periodically broke out in a chorus of chants, including “Build the wall, we’ll tear it down” and “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.”
“It gives me hope,” said Chris DeRoller, a rally-goer from Old Chatham. “To see all the people that value kindness and generosity, it makes me hopeful.”
Additional Albany County Sheriff's Department personnel were on hand to direct travelers and maintain a clear walkway.
The protest began near baggage claim, but was moved before noon to the other end of the airport near the check-in counters. The crowd included senior citizens, families with young children and many people who said they had immigrated to the United States years ago.
“What I think is happening is heartbreaking, and it is so not who we are as a country,” DeRoller said. “We have to stand up or it’s going to get worse.”
Trump signed an executive order on Friday banning citizens and refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The order prevents citizens of Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Libya from entering the United States for the next 90 days.
A federal judge ruled Saturday night that the government could not remove individuals with valid visas or refugee status from the country or detain those who had already arrived, saying the executive order could cause those travelers “irreparable harm.”
The travel ban created chaos and confusion as some U.S. citizens traveling from Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan were detained or told they’d be sent back.
The potential impact of the executive order prompted a quick response from several Capital Region leaders, nearly all of whom spoke out against it.
Stephen Ainlay, president of Union College in Schenectady, issued a statement Sunday afternoon saying the college will protect and support those affected by the travel ban.
“Union was founded as one of the country’s first non-sectarian colleges, with the belief that diversity made for a better educational experience,” Ainlay wrote. “Two centuries later, we are more committed than ever to that belief.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Wilsboro, both spoke out in opposition to the president’s order. Tonko said sending refugees back is “inhuman and un-American,” while Stefanik called the travel ban “rushed and overly broad.”
In a joint statement with 15 other state attorneys general, Eric Schneiderman vowed to fight the executive order, calling it “unconstitutional.”
Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb and a Niskayuna native, tweeted Sunday that the company would provide free housing to refugees unable to enter the U.S. because of the travel ban.
Cianna Freeman, an immigration attorney with the Tully Rinckey law firm in Colonie, said she’s heard from a lot of people concerned about family members abroad, particularly those who were on waiting lists to travel to the United States.
As the debate over the executive order plays out, Freeman said attorneys are discouraging travel for those with dual citizenship in one of the seven countries included in the ban, saying the situation is too tumultuous.
Bradley Russell of Albany held a sign at Sunday’s airport protest bearing Donald Trump’s face that read “Deport Trump.”
He said he was glad to see such a strong response to the travel ban, but added that he wished people had been more proactive than reactive in protesting Trump’s rhetoric. With the Republican Party in control of the executive branch, both houses of Congress and potentially the Supreme Court, Russell said grass-roots activism will be important in the years to come.
“I’m glad to see everybody, but it needs to be sustained,” he said. “We have no other choice.”