The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States has left a sizable amount of the population feeling concerned about what the next four to eight years would have in store for them. One such group is the Muslim American community, which faced ever increasing stigmatization in the years after the September 11th attacks. Both the campaign and subsequent election of Trump have increased incidents of bias against Muslims. But the apex of this occurred shortly after he took office.
In a controversial move, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769 into law. The order reduced the number of refugees that were allowed into the United States, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for four months, and indefinitely barred entry for Syrian refugees. But the area of the order that attracted the most attention was a complete ban on immigration from countries that Homeland Security deemed as a threat to U.S. safety. In addition to Syria, these countries are identified as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
Enforcement of the new law began almost immediately by border officials. Reports soon came in about people from the aforementioned countries were barred from flights to the U.S, regardless of whether or not they had valid visas, to Muslim travellers that were just arriving to the U.S., only find themselves detained in the airport immediately after stepping off. In response, several states took the order to court and many of them blocked it. But it paled compared to the protests that followed in cities across the country.
In various international airports across the country, including New York’s JFK Airport, lengthy protests were staged, calling for both an immediate repeal of the band and the release of detained passengers. But after protesting at the airports, some decided to take it even further and show New Yorkers what life could be like without Muslims.
On February 1st, delis and bodegas across the city, many of which are owned by Yemeni immigrants, closed down for eight hours in protest for the executive order. During the shutdown, a massive rally was held in front of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall for the rest of the evening. According to organizer Debbie Almontaser, a thousand businesses were involved in the shut down, with several other restaurants and stores participating out of support. “They are part of the American fabric through the service they offer day in and day out for their communities.” A lot of store owners hung signs on their doors urging their regular customers to join them at the rally and show support for the Muslim community. Others added more personal signs to their doors. One such bodega had a sign that simply said, “Closed. My family is detained at JFK” At Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, thousands of Yemeni-Americans gathered to voice their concerns about the travel ban. As one bodega owner explained, “This order goes against everything we came here for and everything America stands for.” The protest has also gained support from figures like Mayor DeBlasio and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. By the end of the event, the Muslim community staged one of the most successful anti-Trump rallies after the inauguration. “This is the first time that the Yemeni-American community has come out in such numbers on an issue that has affected them.”, as Almontaser explains.
One such bodega that participated was the J.K. Deli And Grocery in Flushing, Queens. The store’s owner, Ali Mazumder, moved the U.S. in 1987 and has been operating the deli since the early 90s. “While thankfully nobody that I know was detained at JFK, I still felt that what Trump was doing wasn’t right and that he needed to get a loud and clear enough message from Muslims that he was doing more harm than good.”
While he was grateful by how customers were understanding towards him participating in the shutdown, Mazumder wishes that it didn’t have to come to a boycott. After spending years in the country and gradually establishing himself amongst the neighborhood with the store, Mazumder is disheartened by how quickly Trump managed to raise anti-Muslim sentiments both during the campaign and after his landslide victory. “Before Trump ever thought about running for any sort of public office, let alone president, I never once felt unwanted or scared because my background. After the election, reading stories about Muslims being profiled by strangers made me become more precautious whenever I’m not home. You never know when you might run into one of these crazy people.”
For now though, it’s business as usual in the city. Not just at J.K. Deli, but at the thousand other bodegas that voiced their opposition to Trump and his new immigration laws.