By Monique Jones
The Birmingham Times
Hundreds of Birmingham protesters gathered Sunday at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, which has prohibited entrance of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The president’s executive order sparked outrage around the nation where protesters poured into airports and denounced Trump on social media.
“We just want the Trump Administration to know that millions of people all across this country will stand in solidarity against anything unlawful and not right for this country,” said Carlos Chaverst, a member of the Birmingham chapter of the National Action Network, during the rally. “We will stand up against Trump’s hateful bigotry [and] rhetoric. We will not tolerate that.”
“America is a land that is, really, not owned by anybody but the indigenous people,” said Outcast Voters League founder Frank Matthews, adding that the ban goes against America’s founding principles of freedom of religion, the right to protest, and freedom of speech.
“This is a country of immigrants,” he said. “We want to say to the world that America, in particularly, Birmingham, Ala., is still open for business of bringing in immigrants.”
Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) said in a statement that the president’s executive order halting the Syrian Refugee Program and barring entry into the United States of citizens from seven mostly Muslim countries was “unconscionable, if not unconstitutional.
“This ill-conceived executive order does little to protect us from terrorism, but it does institutionalize a prejudice against Muslims by giving preference to minority Christians in Muslim countries and forbidding majority Muslim populations from entering into the United States on the basis of nothing more than the religion that they practice,” Sewell said. “Likewise, by banning the entry of all refugees, the Trump administration dishonors the commitment we made to countless women and children from Syria that have successfully complied with our strict vetting process and now seek only refuge from the carnage of their own war-torn country.”
The Trump administration appeared to soften its stance on the immigration ban Sunday. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said during an NBC interview that those with green cards wouldn’t be affected by the executive order. Trump also released a written statement Sunday night, stating that the ban “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,” he wrote in a statement. “We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”
Among the protesters at the Birmingham airport was Dr. Dominique Linchet, chair of foreign languages at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
“I think that the ban against Muslim immigrants and refugees is illogical. It’s immoral. It’s unchristian. It’s against everything we stand for in the United States,” she said. “Immigrants and refugees are the backbone of this society. I have to say and do something about it.”
Linchet, a Belgian immigrant, was emotionally affected by the news of the ban “because I could imagine myself in the shoes of those who have [been] turned away [and] those who are separated from their families in the United States,” she said. “I was not naturalized until 2008, so for 20 years, I was on a green card with an American husband and two American children, so it could be me if I weren’t the right race or the right religion.”
Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, said that the ban has “affected us as Muslims more than one way.”
“One is as Americans, because this is not what our Constitution calls for. This is not what we are about,” he said. “The second is as Muslims. Banning people of my faith without having any evidence has done nothing but make me believe that there is an agenda to eliminate Muslims from this country.”
Taufique said that he wanted to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt.”
“But the people he has surrounded himself with, who are known racists, who are known people who are working against the values we hold very dear to heart—I cannot help but believe that this country is going into a very different direction.”
However, Taufique said he wanted to focus on the positive.
“I have never seen people getting together and doing things like what we are doing. People who did not used to meet with each other—Mr. Trump has created an environment for us to get together,” he said. “Now, what we need is one of the national leaders to lead us. Demonstrations are going to go to waste until we make changes in 2018.”
“…We need to show our strength with these rallies,” he said. “…It’s going to make [the Trump administration] feel that the American people are stronger than the American government [and] it is going to make us feel that we are not alone.”
MSNBC and The Economist contributed to this report.