The order was signed Friday afternoon, January 27: a presidential executive decision blocking citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for 90 days. Over the course of the weekend, the nation’s airports became the focal points for mass protests—and PDX was no exception. By Sunday afternoon, the second day of protests at the airport, between 600 and 1,000 protestors (according to Port of Portland estimates) joined Senator Jeff Merkley, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici to assail President Donald Trump’s action blocking the nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen and suspending the admission of all refugees.
“When the administration attacks women, we stand with women. When the administration attacks our workers, we stand with our workers. When they attack religious minorities we stand with them and we stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Merkley told demonstrators. “We are a nation of immigrants.”
The result was some heavy footfall on the famed PDX carpet, as protesters chanted, waved signs, and marched from the arrival deck, which was closed to traffic for the protest, through the terminal along the arrivals corridor. ACLU members looked on as chants of “When human rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” echoed around the terminal. Tensions mounted when Trump supporters began to yell over protestors from an upper level, but stood down when demonstrators approached, and airport police stayed back. Someone played John Lennon’s “Imagine” over a speaker system, and crowds inside and outside the terminal sang along under a disco light apparently brought for the occasion.
In a largely peaceful if at times tense protest, there were a number of scuffles, and one injury was reported. An apparent supporter of Donald Trump was assaulted and had to be transported from the airport for medical assistance. (The Port of Portland police are investigating the incident.)
Tara Herivel, a Portland criminal defense attorney who specializes in postconviction work, also spent hours in PDX's international arrivals area on the day as part of the local chapter of Lawyers for Good Government. Founded in November after the election, the now-120,000-strong "army" of attorneys, law students, and activists across the US partnered with the International Refugee Assistance Project to send volunteers to airports to offer "support, referrals, and resources," said Herivel, who connected with the group through Facebook.
Herivel ended up offering support to a family who were waiting for Iranian-born relatives. They were eventually released, but were interrogated "longer than anyone" else, Herivel reported. The legal volunteers had no access to detainees, and Herivel said she didn't know if anyone who had been detained at PDX had requested and been denied any legal services. But, she added, "around the country, what we're hearing from people who have been released is that access is the issue."
Her volunteer shift ended in the afternoon, right as protesters were starting to fill the departures floor and the traffic lanes. "It really meant something for them," Herivel said of the family's take on the many people who showed up to protest the executive order. "They were pretty horrified and scared, and it was helpful to them, they said, to have all these bodies there doing something caring."