Parents, students and teachers gathered outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office, and voiced their concerns about Betsy DeVos’ pending appointment to Secretary of Education. Public Education Watchdogs organized the demonstration and pressed Sen. Schumer to block DeVos’ confirmation during this week’s Senate vote.
Since the demonstration, a Senate panel met on Tuesday afternoon and voted 12-11 in favor of DeVos. This will advance her confirmation to a full Senate vote for final approval. Democrats remain hopeful they can acquire the three Republican votes needed to block her appointment. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have both expressed their own reservations with DeVos’ appointment, but neither have confirmed the direction of their vote.
Concerned New Yorkers gathered at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 to protest President Trump’s executive order that barred entry into the United States refugees from seven majority Muslim countries. Photo by Cora Cervantes
“Let them In! Let them In!” roared thousands of New Yorkers outside of Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International airport.
Rez Iriqui, 36, from Long Island, watched nearby and listened intently as he held his young son over his shoulders.
“I am an immigrant,” he said. “I am not a protester. I work on Wall Street, but I am here because I am worried about the future of my children. Within the last five days we have seen things that I thought would never have happened in America.”
Iriqui and his family joined thousands of New Yorkers yesterday who gathered outside of Terminal 4 to express outrage over President Trump’s executive order banning travel into the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Early Saturday morning word spread that due to the new executive order issued by the Trump administration on Friday evening, travelers had been detained inside airports across the country and were not permitted entry into the country. Through posts and calls to action on social media a mass protest began to form at Terminal 4. Among the protesters were many immigrants who said they knew what was at stake for the refugees seeking shelter in America.
“I come from an immigrant background and an immigrant family,” said Farhan Hossain, 25, who came from Manhattan’s Flatiron district to join the demonstration. “I am here to stand in solidarity with refugees that are being detained. I am against a Trump regime that implements fascist measures that detain people indefinitely.”
The order barred entry into the United States to Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, seven majority Muslim countries that have been categorized as “countries of particular concern.” The order also suspended the United States refugee program for the next four months, outlines increased screenings and will prioritize Christian refugees. The seven countries listed are not responsible for any terrorist attacks in America. Opponents argue that the list can be construed as arbitrary and a conflict of interest since the list does not include Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization does business, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
By late afternoon protesters at JFK held signs that read “Let Them In,” and chanted “Resist, Fight Back, This is Our New York!” People remained outside the terminal late into the evening in spite of the cold temperatures. As the crowds grew the mood was tense but also filled with solidarity. Some protesters arrived with coffee, donuts, and hand warmers to show support for all those that had been protesting under cold weather conditions since noon.
“I am tremendously upset by what President Trump has done,” said Jessica Valentino, 28, who came out from Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “I am an adoptee, I came into the country when I was 3 months old…to think of all the families and other people trying to come here that no longer have that opportunity is absolutely heartbreaking.”
At 6:30 p.m. protesters kneeled and listened to updates concerning the state of those being detained. Across the street near the entrance to Terminal 4, which had been closed and was guarded by police in riot gear, Azi Amari, 37, from Brooklyn, held a sign up toward them.
“I am Iranian, I was going to travel in two weeks to visit my family in Iran.They all live there. Even though I am a green card holder. I cannot come back if I go,” she said “My family is so shocked. We are trying to figure what will happen next. Based on this new ban they are not allowed to come visit me. I think this is unfair. It is totally discrimination.”
At about 7:30 p.m. protesters received word that Judge Ann M. Donnelly had issued an emergency stay that halted deportations of those being detained. This ruling was based on a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two individuals who had been detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The ruling addressed those being barred entry at airports in the United States, but does not address those who are trapped abroad.
As protesters marched around Terminal 4, some were heading to the courthouse to join others who wanted to be briefed following the ruling, including Mazeba Uddin, 50, Jamaica Hills, Queens and an immigrant from Bangladesh.
“We are strong together,” she said. “Our country, Our community is strong – Trump is not strong. Our millions of votes count, he needs to understand that.”
Protests at airports throughout the country are set to continue until those being detained are released.
In the basement of Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, women gathered recently to participate in the Muslim Community Network’s self defense class. Lately, it has been busier than usual.
“I believe that we got so many people interested and all of these RSVP’s because people were panicked after the election,” said Emaan Moosani, Program Director at the Muslim Community Network.
There has been an increase in hate crimes toward the Muslim community. The day after the presidential election, various attacks and hate oriented crimes were reported around the country.
“The need is really strong for us women to be able to defend ourselves, in light of all the Islamophobia and negative stuff that has been happening for the past almost two years,” said training participant, Ayesha Mohammed.
In a recent study, The Southern Poverty Center found that the number of groups on the American radical right has expanded from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015 — a 14% increase. This hostile climate has translated to an increase in attacks on vulnerable populations. The FBI hate crimes statistics show that assault, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims surged by 67% since 2014. This increase is the biggest since 2001 when more than 480 attacks occurred in the aftermath of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
During the training, Magda Kamel, a teaching assistant, shared an experience she had following the elections.
“In the morning, on my way to the mosque somebody came and whispered bad words, f- words, and many things. At first, I ignored him, and he came closer… I was so scared of physical touch, but he came closer to curse me more,” Kamel recalled.
The fear in her community is overwhelming.
Mariana Aguilera served as a facilitator at the event. She emphasized that the training space was designed to help women cope not only with immediate danger but also with a state of being when facing a constant threat.
“ Self-defense is not just learning how to address something physically, but also how to address something mentally,” said Aguilera. “Self-defense has two parts, and those skills that you learn from there will give you the solution when you are confronting somebody verbally, physically, or what you are going to do when you are dealing with the situation itself.”
Participants stayed after the event to exchange contact information and provide words of support to the women that shared their experience during the training.
“I feel a whole lot more confident than when I walked in the room,” said Magda Kamel.
Jose Marti Park in Union City was created in 2008 as a tribute for the Cuban community in the area. Photo by Sophie Herbut
The Jose Marti Park in Union City, is a small, gated park named after the famous Cuban poet. It was once nicely decorated with a tile Cuban flag behind a bust of Jose Marti and lined portraits of famous Cubans. Now the tiles have been taken down and the small display has been weathered and barely recognizable.
But it is still a gathering place for the older local Cuban men. A place to smoke cigars, play dominos, talk about family, memories and Cuba.
These men came to America with nothing except an idea. They left their families, friends and the few things they owned for freedom. They came for a chance to work, earn and build a better life.
“Personally, my country is here,” Fernando Andreu said in Spanish recently at the park. “I have my children and grandchildren here. Cuba is lost now.”
Fidel Castro’s death in November shocked the Cubans of Union City. It was a day that brought, reflection and pain.
Many Cubans immigrated to Union City to seek political and economic freedom after Fidel Castro gained power. North Jersey and New York have the second highest Cuban population in the United States. Their influence gave Union City the nickname “Havana on the Hudson.”
Now after Castro’s death, many older Cuban-Americans are not expecting any liberation to come to the island.
“With the communism, there are different people who live there,” Andreu,66, said. “They don’t think the same as we do. [Cuba] is not the same.”
Born in the capital of Cuba, Havana, Andreu and his family left when he was eight years old in the 1960s, as Castro was gaining control of the government. Because his dad was taken as a political prisoner for working in the previous government, Andreu left Cuba with only his mom and his sister.
“When we came, we were political refugees,” said Andreu. “[Now] Cubans step foot here and automatically have [citizenship]. Many people from Latin America would love to have the same thing.”
Andreu and his family came with nothing and lived in poverty. They collected welfare until his mom was able to get a job at a factory to support the family. He learned what it meant to work and earn his own keep. After spending most of his life in the U.S., he’s disillusioned at the thought of a free Cuba.
Miguel Alonso, 60, doesn’t believe Castro’s death meant anything for Cuba’s freedom. He said the hold of communism on the country is far greater than the one man.
“Fidel died to me 10 years ago,” Alonso said in Spanish. “They are just announcing it now.”
Alonso grew up in Havana, under Castro’s government. He left when he was 24, by himself.
“I was young, I came on a boat with the desire to come to the United States for liberty,” Alonso said. “What all Cubans want.”
Alonso escaped through the port of Mariel on April 27, 1980. The port was opened temporarily and a large number of rafts and boats full of people entered the U.S. He said it was the quickest and easiest way to escape.
“I knew people in the United States,” said Alonso. “I knew here you had to work.”
Alonso immediately got to work in construction because that’s what he worked as in Cuba. He had the skills and the opportunity. He said while he grew up around communism, he still believed in democracy.
“No one agrees with communism,” he said. “Communism demands people to be communist. It didn’t work in Europe; it definitely would not work [in Cuba].”
Alonso also said that with Trump as president, he’s unsure where the future of Cuban-Americans are headed.
Francisco Guzman, 63, lit a cigar as he stood against the green fence of the park.
Guzman grew up in Havana and he came to the U.S. when he was 26, after he sought asylum in the Peruvian embassy.
“One Saturday when they said that people could enter, I just went,” said Guzman in Spanish. “I spent 13 days in the embassy.”
Guzman immediately started working when he arrived to the U.S., working in a factory at first in Philadelphia. When he moved to Union City, he started working in agriculture. Guzman’s parents and his brother escaped Cuba, but his sister is still there. He said she will never leave so he helps her with as much as he can.
“I send her clothes and I give her money so she can buy what she needs,” Guzman said.
He said many Cubans who used to live in Union City have moved out to look for jobs and start their families. The ones who’ve stayed have been there for most of their lives.
“The Capitalist goes wherever there’s a job,” said Rijo Alvarez, 50.
Alvarez sat on one of the tables of the park with a cigar poised in his hand. He spoke casually about his life as though it was as common as an afternoon walk. He listed all the jobs he had from construction to electrical work.
“I’ve done things here I wouldn’t have ever been about to do in my country,” said Alvarez in Spanish. “My [Cuban] brothers would have stepped on my head.”
Alvarez moved from Cuba to New Jersey when he was 14. His father was a political prisoner, but was able to take his entire family and leave the island. He was one of the lucky ones. Alvarez’s parents started working immediately when they arrived and Alvarez was enrolled in school.
“I follow a philosophy, not a person,” said Alvarez. “The philosophy to be free. I want to be free and do with my money what I think I should do with it. I wanted to think what I wanted and read what I wanted.”
Alvarez said Castro’s death didn’t faze him. He was American. For him, Castro has been dead for years. But he said that both the U.S. and Cuba would have to change.
“Things have to change [in the U.S.],” said Alvarez. “Cubans aren’t the only ones who deserve the treatment they’re getting. All the Latin American brothers also deserve it. We should all be equal”
Every year, on the second Friday in December, high school seniors from across the country march their application materials through their communities to a local post office or mail truck. The College March began in 2011 at NYC Outward Bound’s network school, the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). In one year, participation spread throughout the network and continues to grow annually. It is a day that allows students to enthusiastically approach the college application process, rather than feel intimidated.
This year, over 2,700 seniors will march at 35 schools across 12 cities.
The snow has fallen, the Christmas trees have gone up, and the lights have been strung. The Holiday season is here. New York City is known for going out all out with decorations. It is also known for being home to over 62,000 homeless people, for whom the holidays may have a different tone. For those who call the streets their home, the holidays may be a reminder of the things they don’t have like a Christmas tree, someone to celebrate with or even being able to be inside for a week.