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Thousands at BWI protest Trump's travel ban

A rally Sunday evening at BWI airport follows executive order to ban entry to some travelers.

When Nasrene Mirjafary joined the throngs at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport's international arrivals area Sunday evening, she took a sign proclaiming she was the "proud daughter of an Iranian immigrant."

Mirjafary was one of at least 2,000 who packed the airport to protest President Donald J. Trump's new restrictions on entry for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. She said she was worried for family members who hold green cards, giving them permanent residency in the United States.

The 35-year-old Baltimore woman said her father came to the United States because he didn't want to live under an Islamic regime and appreciated freedom of religion in America.

"That some of those freedoms — that were why he chose the United States as his new homeland — are being threatened, we have to speak up," Mirjafary said.

"I worry about my family members who are here completely legally, and should they travel, they might not be permitted to come home," she said. "They have homes here, businesses here, families here, they pay taxes here, they abide by the law. There's no reason why they shouldn't be able to travel back and forth when they've been nothing but an asset to the United States."

As demonstrators protested at BWI, outside the White House and in public spaces and airports across the country Sunday, administration officials tried to tamp down concerns about Trump's immigration orders, which suspend refugee admissions for 120 days and indefinitely bar the processing of refugees from Syria.

During a round of Sunday news show interviews, the Republican president's aides stressed that just a small portion of travelers had been affected by the order.

The aides also reversed course on green-card holders, saying that citizens of the countries on the list who hold permanent residency in the United States will not be barred from re-entering, as officials had previously said.

Some Republicans in Congress urged Trump to proceed with caution in the face of legal pushback. Top congressional Republicans, however, remain largely behind the new president.

The protest at BWI drew a crowd that filled the entire bottom floor of the international arrivals area, as well as most of the top section. Travelers arriving from London, Reykjavik, Iceland, and the Caribbean appeared bemused by the sight of thousands of people welcoming them to the United States. Some filmed the scene with their smartphones or joined in with the chants.

No cases of people being detained at BWI because of Trump's order were reported over the weekend. Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the airport, referred comment on the matter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which did not respond Sunday.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings told the crowd they were in a "fight for the soul of our democracy."

"Sadly, we have a president who has come to a point where there seems to be almost a hijacking of our democracy," the Baltimore Democrat said. "This latest ban on refugees and people coming into the country, it's unconstitutional."

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Reps. John Delaney and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, all Democrats, also attended the rally.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, also a Democrat, joined attorneys general from 15 other states in condemning the order. He tweeted his commitment late Saturday "to use my authority to fight discrimination and hate."

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said his administration's legal counsel is reviewing the executive order and its implications for the state.

"The implementation and enforcement of immigration law and policies is the sole purview of the federal government," spokeswoman Amelia Chassé said in a statement. "This administration has and continues to support strengthened and more clarified vetting processes for those entering the country. Improving our national security can and should be done in a defined and concise manner that upholds our American values."

Several lawyers showed up at the BWI protest. They set up a table offering legal advice to the families of refugees and green-card holders who might need it.

Nina Basu, one of those attorneys, said she also went to Washington Dulles International Airport on Saturday to try to help with legal services.

Basu said her parents were from India.

"Every attorney whose parents are immigrants should be here," she said. "Everyone deserves the due process of law."

The Rev. Jake Caldwell attended the rally with his wife and two daughters. Hannah Caldwell, 6, made her own sign that welcomed children to the United States.

"The immigration policy signed by President Trump is against everything we believe in as people of faith," the Hagerstown pastor said. "It's a terrible thing, and we're people of welcome and we believe our country should be a place of welcome."

Karen Galan of Baltimore said her parents are green-card holders from the Dominican Republic. She said she worried that Trump could expand the ban to that country.

She said a friend is currently detained in London because of Trump's order.

"It scares me to know that at any moment something like that can happen to me," said Galan, 28. "I love this country, and that's why I'm here."

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

cwells@baltsun.com

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