Scores of protesters gathered Sunday at Honolulu International Airport, chanting and unfurling banners to denounce President Donald Trump’s sweeping executive order that has sparked spontaneous demonstrations across the country.
The protest was in response to Trump’s move on Friday to temporarily block refugee resettlements and bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Many protesters held up handmade signs with messages, some of them reading: “Aloha for refugees,” “Ban torture, not refugees” and “Aloha trumps hate in da 808.”
At times, the protesters also broke into chants: “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” “United, we stand. Divided, we fall,” and “What do we want? Lift the ban! When do we want it? Now!”
Liz Rees, a spokeswoman for World Can’t Wait-Hawaii, which organized the protest, said it’s critical to take a stand against Trump’s policies.
“We can’t sit back and be silent. We can’t wait and see,” Rees said. “One week has been far too much time given to Trump. That’s why we’re here.”
The protest drew some local politicians, including state Sen. Karl Rhoads and state Rep. Kaniela Ing.
“Whether it’s unconstitutional or not, this is simply a bad policy,” Rhoads said. “The risk of admitting refugees is minuscule. We’re more likely to die from a spider bite than we are from being attacked by a refugee. They’re already thoroughly vetted. If we’re going to be the beacon of hope that we think we are, we have to keep the borders open.”
Gov. David Ige, meanwhile, issued a statement Sunday, warning against “the consequences of giving in to fear of newcomers.”
“The remains of the internment camp at Honouliuli are a sad testament to that fear,” Ige said. “We must remain true to our values and be vigilant where we see the worst part of history about to be repeated.”
Ige also threw his support behind the decision by Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin to join 16 other attorneys general in denouncing Trump’s order as “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful.”
The attorneys general released a joint statement, which reads in part: “We are confident that the executive order will ultimately be struck down by the courts. In the meantime, we are committed to working to ensure that as few people as possible suffer from the chaotic situation that it has created.”
In fact, four federal courts have already moved to strike down parts of Trump’s order, allowing any valid visa-holders who were en route or at an airport when the rulings were filed to enter the country.
As the protests spread across the country Sunday, a top Trump official also appeared to walk back one of the most controversial elements of the executive order: its impact on green card holders, who are permanent legal residents of the U.S.
“As far as green card holders going forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on NBC News’ ”Meet the Press.”
Amid the turmoil, Trump issued a statement to defend the executive order, insisting that it was about “terror and keeping our country safe.”
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” Trump said. “This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order.”
In Honolulu, the three-hour protest was peaceful, but there was a moment of tension near the end, when Ford Fuchigami, the director of the Hawaii Department of Transportation, asked one of the protesters to take down his sign.
Some people quickly intervened, arguing that the protester — whose sign featured a picture of former Mexican President Vicente Fox holding a middle finger with a message: “I’m not gonna pay for that fucking wall” — had a First Amendment right to free speech.
Fuchigami relented, explaining later that he just wanted to be welcoming to visitors.
“How would you like to come to Hawaii, and the first thing you see is a picture of someone holding a middle finger?” Fuchigami said.
Meanwhile, Tim Sakahara, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said no immigrant has been held as the result of Trump’s order at the Honolulu airport, which has no direct flights to or from the seven banned countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
But Sakahara said things could quickly change, noting that Hawaii officials have little control over immigration matters. “It’s a federal issue,” he said.