Rebecca Cataldi from Arlington, Va. doesn’t remember exactly how she first heard of the thousands gathering across the country in outrage against President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.
But she remembers knowing where she’d be heading next: Dulles airport.
“It was just mass chaos,” Cataldi would recall a year later. And yet: “it was really inspiring.”
On Saturday, the one-year anniversary of the executive order announcing the ban, Cataldi and hundreds others gathered at a “No Muslim Ban Ever” rally outside the White House.
Executive Order 13769 — the first iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban — barred immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen as potential undesirables fostering “hostile attitudes toward [the U.S.] and its founding principles,” per the language in the executive order.
What first started as a spontaneous gathering in New York’s JFK airport that night in 2017 ballooned onto a national scale. Thousands of concerned Americans and immigrants overwhelmed dozens of arrival terminals on news that refugees had been trapped mid-transit by Trump’s order, held by immigration officers confused by the lack of clear instruction from the executive branch. Lawyers rushed to aid detained travelers.
That nationwide backlash would join the ranks of the Women’s March and inauguration protests as a defining moment in a year of organizing against the new administration.
Manar Waheed, the ACLU’s legislative and advocacy counsel, told protesters she recalled being taken aback “beyond my comprehension” at the sheer scale and of the outcry that night based on such short notice.
“It showed me that people in this country do care about Muslims,” Waheed said. “They do care about religious freedom, they do care about targeting people based on hatred, and they’re outraged and willing to stand against it.”
Members of the ACLU, together with Muslim faith leaders and other immigrant activists groups, planned Saturday’s anniversary rally as both a retrospective and a demonstration of continued resistance against anti-Muslim sentiment.
The story of the Muslim ban turned from the streets to the courts in the year the followed. Version 3.0, a reformulation of the original that dropped Sudan but added Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela to the list of targeted countries, was partially blocked by a Hawaii federal judge who ruled that it lacked sufficient evidence that entry from implicated nations would be “detrimental” to American interests. Temporarily reinstated, the ban now faces an uncertain future in the Supreme Court.
Mark Hetfield, President of Jewish humanitarian aid group HIAS, joined lawyers from the ACLU and Council on American-Islamic Relations was quick to note the dark irony of Trump’s first ban being issued on January 27 — International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The entire international convention for refugees arose out of the ashes of the Holocaust to make sure that never again would anybody be trapped in a genocide,” Hetfield said. “We need to make sure that this is just an embarrassing, temporary aberration on our national history.”
Members of the Muslim-American community practiced midday prayer outside the White House ahead of their rally, as others enveloped the group in a “protective circle” they said likened back to a sense of intercultural unity in the first few days of the ban.
Amid chants like “no ban, no registry, no white supremacy,” organizers welcomed rally-goers with mock passports from four of the seven countries banned. Each passport contained a story from a traveler detained or separated from their loved ones at the behest of Trump’s ban.
A mock Sudanese passport contained reflections from Nisrin Elamin, a San Francisco-area PhD student who was one of the first people to be detained on the evening of January 27. She recalled seeing other detainees, including an Iraqi man, threatened with deportation and handcuffed based on an order that had only been issued hours prior.
“In the Sudanese community, families were torn apart, people were denied access to critical medical care, lost jobs and were prevented from attending the funerals of loved ones,” she wrote. “Beyond these material and often irreversible effects on people’s lives, there is also the psychological impact this ban and similar xenophobic and racist policies are having on our children.”
The rally concluded with a half-hour march down the Pennsylvania Avenue offices of Customs and Border Protection. On a busy day of activism in the nation’s capital, protesters merged with a queer and transgender dance party outside the Trump Hotel calling for an end to sexual violence.
For many of the protesters, lawyers, and refugee workers who attended what they dubbed the “ban-iversary” on Saturday, the fate of the Muslim ban remained uncertain. Opposition has since shifted from the streets to the courts, and with the Supreme Court set to start hearings in the coming months, activists are hoping for a decisive victory in their favor.