Protest Grows ‘Out of Nowhere’ at Kennedy Airport After Iraqis Are Detained
It began in the morning, with a small crowd chanting and holding cardboard signs outside Kennedy International Airport, upset by the news that two Iraqi refugees had been detained inside because of President Trump’s executive order.
By the end of the day, the scattershot group had swelled to an enormous crowd.
They filled the sidewalks outside the terminal and packed three stories of a parking garage across the street, a mass of people driven by emotion to this far-flung corner of the city, singing, chanting and unfurling banners.
This was the most public expression of the intense reaction generated across the country by Mr. Trump’s polarizing decision. While those in some areas of the country were cheered by the executive order, the reaction was markedly different for many in New York. References to the Statue of Liberty and its famous inscription became a rallying cry.
Similar protests erupted at airports around the country.
Word of the protest at Kennedy first filtered out on social media from the immigrant-advocacy groups Make the Road New York and the New York Immigration Coalition. It seemed like it might stay small.
But the drama seemed to rise throughout the day.
There was the release of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, one of the two Iraqi refugees who had been detained, who said the United States was the greatest country in the world.
“This is the humanity, this is the soul of America,” he said, surrounded by reporters and a handful of protesters holding supportive signs. “This is what pushed me to move, leave my country and come here.”
Just past 3 p.m., a man with a social media megaphone gave it a blow. “Everybody in NYC area — head to JFK Terminal 4 NOW!” Michael Moore said on Twitter. “Big anti-Trump protest forming out of nowhere!”
People were pouring in. Photos traveled far and wide on social media and on cable networks like CNN, which reported live from the protest.
By sundown, the crowd had grown into the hundreds or more, spreading along the parking apron and onto the three floors of the parking deck overlooking the terminal. They shouted downward in unison with the crowd.
Passengers with baggage-laden carts squeezed in and around knots of people as they headed to and from the terminal. One group of four people, apparently with a flight to catch, simply abandoned their cart in the parking lot and rolled their bags to the unoccupied end of the terminal.
Cabdrivers joined in, with their union, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, calling for an hourlong work stoppage for drivers serving the airport during the height of the protest.
There were moments of tension.
In the evening, people complained on social media that they were being prevented from boarding the AirTrain, the link from the subway to the airport. Photos circulated of police officers standing in front of the turnstiles.
Alison Brockhouse, 33, said she had arrived around 7 p.m. and had been told that the police were letting only people with airplane tickets onto the public transportation system. “I was a little incredulous at first,” she said. “I’ve never really seen anything like this.”
The Port Authority wrote in a post on Twitter, “AirTrain JFK controls in place for public safety, due to crowding conditions.”
But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, stepped in amid a rising drumbeat of anger at an AirTrain station.
“I have ordered the Port Authority to reverse its decision regarding the JFK AirTrain,” Mr. Cuomo said in a news release put out shortly after 8 p.m. “The people of New York will have their voices heard.”
Still, the minutes ticked by at the AirTrain station, as the police refused to let people through even after the announcement, Ms. Brockhouse said. There was a moment where it was not clear if the large crowd would be able to attend the protest. But about 15 minutes later, the police stepped aside, and the crowd was let past.