Demonstrations at airports around the country last weekend (Jan. 28-29) protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration included a gathering at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix in which members of the local Jewish community participated.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder of Arizona Jews for Justice, was there, and he estimated the crowd at about 500 people gathered on the curb outside Terminal 4, including possibly dozens from his organization, local synagogues and other Jewish organizations.
His message from the protest is direct: “We stand for love, not hate. We were all immigrants. Not long ago, Jewish refugees were seeking entry into the U.S. There have not been any refugees in America that have become terrorists. The federal vetting system has been remarkably thorough and effective,” he wrote in an email to Jewish News.
Sarah Kader, a member of Arizona Jews for Justice, said in an email to Jewish News that she thinks the crowd grew to about 1,000 people on Jan. 29. She said the protest was organized by local immigration attorney Larry Sandigo.
“Our primary message is that we oppose a Muslim ban,” she wrote in her email, “because it is unlawful, unconstitutional and wrong. It does not represent who we are as American people or who we are as Jews. We were once strangers in a strange land, and we should embrace the stranger especially now.
“As Jews,” she continued, “we know what it was like to have the doors of this nation shut on us. Some were murdered in Auschwitz because of horrific immigration policies that sent Jews back to Europe. Let us not have blood on our hands for sending back or refusing to let in people who are fleeing terror in their homelands.”
Meantime, at other U.S. airports, Jews joined other members of their communities to protest Trump’s executive order. As thousands of people gathered outside Terminal A at Philadelphia International Airport on Sunday afternoon, protesters continued to arrive to join the massive demonstration.
The demonstrators were of all races and age groups, but the Jewish presence was impossible to ignore. Many of the demonstrators’ signs had Jewish themes, such as “Jewish refugee from Soviet Union/this is not the America that welcomed my family.”
HIAS, the former Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is a 135-year-old Jewish agency that assists refugees and asylum seekers. The U.S.-based agency once focused on helping Jews flee persecution in Europe, but is now working mostly with non-Jews in 30 countries, and has been recognized for decades as an immigration facilitator by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of people with approval notices who now can’t come to the States,” the group’s CEO, Mark Hetfield, told JTA on Jan. 29.
Of the approximately 85,000 refugees admitted into the United States last year, HIAS was responsible for resettling 3,884 – including 159 Jews, among them 89 from Iran and several others from Yemen.
Hetfield said that some of the families processed by HIAS already received a refugee visa but were turned away at airports while trying to enter.
“This inhumane act was done in the most inhumane way possible,” Hetfield said.
Yanklowitz said he’s encouraging local synagogues to become sanctuaries for any type of vulnerable families at risk, including immigrants or refugees from any background. “My hope and prayer is that we can return to a reasonable, moderate and compassionate approach toward how we deal with foreigners within America and crying at the gates of America,” he said.
“We hope the executive order is permanently stayed by the court (so that) it cannot be enforced,” Kader said. “We will continue to protest so long as refugees and immigrants are negatively affected by it.”