Thousands of New Yorkers gathered in the city’s Washington Square Park on Wednesday night to protest the expected enforcement of a ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries entering the United States.
Chants of “No ban, no wall, New Yorkers for all” and “Lock him up!” rang out through the packed crowd, waving signs that read “I pledge to protect Immigrant NY” and “Defend Muslim immigrants”.
The march was organized by the New York chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations and featured multiple speakers including local politicians and activists.
“Mr President, you will not divide us,” Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said to loud cheers. “You will not divide New York and you will not divide the United States of America.”
“We are here to say no to the politics of fear and we reject policies that turn our back on those that have already suffered so much.”
The protest was organized shortly after news emerged on Tuesday that Donald Trump intended to sign an executive order that would suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees and temporarily halt entry into the country for citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq and Iran.
The move was widely seen as a fulfillment of Trump’s previous pledge to implement a ban on Muslims entering the country.
The executive order is expected to be signed later this week. The Guardian has obtained a draft copy of the order, which has been circulating among immigration lawyers.
The draft – which may yet be amended before it is signed by the president – is titled, “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals”. It includes a 120-day ban on refugees being resettled in the US and an indefinite ban on the resettlement of Syrian refugees. It would also cap the total number of refugees entering the US in 2017 to 50,000 – more than half the previous year’s figure of 117,000. The US has traditionally been the global leader in refugee resettlement and historically, the program has received bipartisan support and is an element of US foreign policy. The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates that there are currently 4.81 million Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries.
According to the draft, visas will be suspended to people from Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran for the next 30 days. The countries were selected from Division O, Title II, Section 203 of the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was passed in the aftermath of San Bernardino and Paris attacks and removed visa waivers for EU citizens who were dual nationals of the listed countries.
The draft order states that 60 days after it will be signed, the Department of Homeland Security and state department will issue a list of countries to be included in a more permanent ban.
Trump pledged in December 2015 to ban all Muslims from entering the country. He later amended this promise, and instead called repeatedly for the “extreme vetting” of immigrants from certain countries.
“The ban itself is a Muslim ban,” said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). “If you take a look at the countries it’s clearly a Muslim ban.”
Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to begin construction on his controversial wall on the US-Mexico border. The order also included a pledge to cut federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities”, a term which refers to cities where local authorities do not cooperate with federal requests that could lead to deportation.
New York considers itself a sanctuary city, and local leaders, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have repeatedly pledged to remain that way. New York City councilwoman Helen Rosenthal repeated that pledge on Wednesday: “We are prepared to run this city without a single federal dollar,” she said to loud cheers.
Back in New York’s Washington Square Park, people lit the park up with their cellphones and others held candles and speakers, standing under the famous arch chanting and cheering while helicopters swirled above.
“I am here because I feel like I have a responsibility to give back to my community, give back to my Muslim brothers and sisters,” high school senior Hebah Jamal said. “To be able to be part of a movement against hate, against fear, and against discrimination.”