As more than 2,000 people jammed into the Portland International Jetport baggage claim area Sunday afternoon to call for an end to President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States, an exhausted traveler squeezed through the crowds to get his bags from the carousel.
After a flight from Nairobi, Kenya, that landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday, Mohemed Aden of Somalia spent his first day in the United States in limbo, not knowing whether he would be sent back to Somalia or allowed to continue on to Portland, where relatives were waiting to take him to Lewiston.
“I was detained,” said Aden.
Then, on Sunday, he was allowed to continue his journey. He was met by his mother-in-law and another family member, who had been waiting at the airport since the early morning, just as the throngs of protesters began to descend.
Aden was one of hundreds of passengers who arrived in Portland to a standing-room-only crowd in the baggage claim area. Portland officials and local politicians led the gathering in chants and songs – which drowned out flight announcements – to protest Trump’s order that closed U.S. borders to refugees, migrants and citizens of seven countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.
“As long as I am mayor, refugees and immigrants will be welcomed in Portland,” said Mayor Ethan Strimling.
The airport rally was one of at least three large rallies across the state Sunday by Mainers angered by the executive orders issued by Trump in his first days in office.
At 10:30 a.m., a protest at Portland City Hall drew about 1,200 people – many of whom later moved on to the airport – to call on Republican Sen. Susan Collins to oppose Trump’s Cabinet nominations and his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That rally was organized by the Maine People’s Alliance and other groups.
Last week, Collins and a senator from Louisiana rolled out their proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act, touting it as a bipartisan compromise.
Collins spoke out Saturday against Trump’s 120-day worldwide ban on refugees, saying it is “overly broad and implementing it will be immediately problematic.” Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree also criticized the ban.
The crowd took over the block in front of City Hall on Sunday, carrying signs that read, “Susan, don’t wimp out” and “Principles over Party.”
Cape Elizabeth residents Andi Clark, her husband, Dave Sylvia, and their 3-year old son, Donald, were making their maiden appearances at an anti-Trump rally. Donald waved a Nina Turtle-themed protest sign. Clark said the last week’s events compelled them to take part.
“The immigration ban, Jeff Sessions’ nomination, having a preschooler,” said Clark, a health economist, listing some of the reasons her family turned out. Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, is Trump’s nominee for attorney general.
Protesters also gathered Sunday morning at Bangor International Airport.
Amy Smith of Lincolnville organized the impromptu Bangor rally on Facebook. She estimated that about 150 people attended what was a peaceful protest. The group spent most of the morning and afternoon outside the terminal listening to refugees tell stories about how they fled their homelands and escaped to the United States.
“They said they were fearful for what’s to come,” Smith said. “People weren’t angry; they were moved to action. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done.”
Smith said Trump’s actions have left her with a feeling of disbelief.
“We are letting fear take over our lives and it’s a dangerous road to go down,” Smith added.
The airport rallies in Portland and Bangor were symbolic gestures against Trump’s refugee ban. Neither airport is directly affected by the order since they do not have regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic commercial flights.
The weekend rallies were the latest protests across Maine and the nation during the first 10 days of the Trump administration. A rally on Jan. 21 drew more than 10,000 marchers on Congress Street in Portland. All three Portland rallies have been peaceful and orderly, with no arrests, said police Lt. Bob Doherty.
Some passengers arriving at the Portland airport Sunday pulled out their phones to take pictures of the scene while others stood on the fringes waiting for taxis and shuttles.
One woman said she was an ardent Trump supporter, with political views that were the opposite of the protesters’. She said she was visiting Maine from North Carolina. She declined to give her name.
Mary Lalumiere of Cumberland, an information booth worker, said she did not think the baggage claim area was a good place to hold a rally. Passengers, she said, were not happy about the inconvenience.
“The traveling public is stressed out,” she said.
Mona Elhag, a Sudanese immigrant from Westbrook, stood with a group of friends to protest the border closings.
She said her brother had tickets to fly from Sudan to help her through surgery on Feb. 15. Now she is worried he will not be there by her side as planned.
“We came here to be safe, but this is not safe,” she said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.