executive director and co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance
director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Ph.D. student in anthropology at Stanford University and a Sudanese citizen. She was detained at JFK airport on Friday evening shortly after Donald Trump’s executive order banning visitors from seven countries, including Sudan, went into effect.
President Trump’s immigration order prompted the New York Taxi Workers Alliance to halt rides from JFK airport Saturday night between 6 and 7 p.m. In a statement explaining the one-hour strike, the alliance said, "Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those who are simply trying to return to their homes here in America after traveling abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry." Meanwhile, the ride-sharing service Uber faced an online backlash for refusing to honor Saturday’s strike. Hundreds of people shared screenshots of themselves deleting the Uber app from smartphones, as the social media hashtag #DeleteUber trended worldwide on Sunday.
AMY GOODMAN: Bhairavi Desai is with us, who is the executive director and co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. It’s an alliance that represents what? Eighteen thousand taxi drivers in New York City. So, on Saturday, from 6:00 to 7:00 Eastern time, you organized taxi drivers to not pick up passengers at JFK, is that right? Why?
BHAIRAVI DESAI: That’s right. We were outraged—
AMY GOODMAN: At Terminal 4.
BHAIRAVI DESAI: We were outraged by the so-called executive order. I mean, it’s just—it’s absolutely inhumane and cruel. And we are a workforce that’s largely Muslim and Sikh. And we know that, you know, when the flames of Islamophobia are fanned, and now by the presidency, it has a ripple effect on everyday people in this country. We’ve known through the years that taxi drivers, who are 20 times more likely to be killed on the job than any other worker, have often been the workers that have been the victims of hate crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened?
BHAIRAVI DESAI: It was just—
AMY GOODMAN: How many taxis? They just wouldn’t go to Terminal 4?
BHAIRAVI DESAI: That’s right, yeah. I mean, it was an act of solidarity. It was an act of consciousness. What is happening in this country is not normal. We refuse to accept this as normalcy. You know, we are a better humanity than this.
AMY GOODMAN: You called on Uber, as well, but they didn’t abide?
BHAIRAVI DESAI: Well, so we—in New York City, we have over 19,000 members, and it includes Uber drivers. But Uber, as a company, sought to take advantage of our strike. And, you know, of course, it’s backfired. People have been really outraged. But it’s not surprising, because the CEO of Uber is an adviser to the president, and, you know, Uber has an absolutely atrocious policy in its treatment of the workers.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Bhairavi, in many other cities around the country, you have—taxi fleets are largely manned by immigrant, and many of them Muslim, drivers. Is it your sense that there’s going to be any connections between your group and others across the country?
BHAIRAVI DESAI: Absolutely. Yesterday in Philadelphia, our—the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania went on a similar solidarity strike and stood with the protesters—in San Francisco, in Austin, Texas, in Houston. You know, one of the things that’s happened is, because of companies like Uber, we are a workforce that’s been so deeply fragmented and impoverished, right? And when workers are kept poor, it has an impact on civil society. It’s harder for people to rise up and take collective action. But we are at a moment of such deep urgency in this society. And, you know, I’m really proud of our members and of the drivers across this country. This was a real act of courage, you know, particularly to have a workforce that’s predominantly black and brown stand up in this time.
AMY GOODMAN: Lyft, the competitor to Uber, did respect this work stoppage and said they were going to give a million dollars to the ACLU over the next few years, as did Sarah Paulson at the SAG Awards, the big acting awards, last night?
OMAR JADWAT: Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, there’s been an outpouring of support, I think, for a variety of organizations, but also, you know, that’s a small part of what matters. What matters is people doing what they can to make a difference. And that’s what we’re seeing. That’s what we saw this weekend in every way, you know? Contributions are important, but, you know, getting out and standing up are really—
AMY GOODMAN: You made something like $24 million this weekend and 150,000 new members? I mean, this is a response that’s sort of unprecedented.
OMAR JADWAT: And mobilizing those people is what those people and the people they know and the people they know and the people these people know is what’s going to make a difference.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nisrin, I wanted to ask you the reaction in some of these countries to this ban. I’m wondering if you’re getting a sense from your—the people that you still know in Sudan and your sense at the international airports as you were coming, what the reaction abroad is to what’s happening here?
NISRIN ELAMIN: People are outraged. And the people directly affected by this are deeply concerned. They’re afraid. In my case, my parents are not green card holders. They live in Sudan. My sister is a dual Australian-Sudanese citizen. We’re now—and she lives in Australia. We’re now on three different continents. And because of this order, we can’t see each other. And that’s scary. My father is almost 80. If I wanted to, you know, see him or if he wanted to come, he couldn’t do that. And I think people are—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Despite your being a permanent resident, right?
NISRIN ELAMIN: Exactly. And I think people are questioning the legality of—you know, it’s one thing to vet people. People like me from these six countries are probably some of the most—you know, one of the most vetted people in this country. It’s another to blanket ban people from being allowed to obtain permission to enter the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And what it meant to you to see all of the protests at all of the airports when you came out?
NISRIN ELAMIN: It was heartwarming. You know, I’m so happy that people are speaking out.
AMY GOODMAN: And Republican Senators McCain and Graham saying that this is the best terrorist recruitment tool, when you criminalize whole populations, whole religions?
NISRIN ELAMIN: Right. I think—you know, I think that’s a fair point. And I think, you know, this is not going to make the United States any safer. And I think it’s a misguided policy. I think, in many ways, we also have to ask who’s—you know, who has the right to feel safe? Like, do I have the right to feel safe? And this is making a lot of people who are affected by the order feel unsafe and unwelcome in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have a lot more to do in this show, and we want to thank you so much for being with us. Nisrin Elamin was held at JFK airport. She is a Sudanese green card holder, a student at Stanford University. We want to thank Bhairavi Desai, who is head of the Taxi Workers Alliance here in New York City. And thank you to Omar Jadwat, who is a lawyer with the ACLU, whose case brought the challenge and a federal judge’s ruling to stay the deportations from these airports, at least for now.
When we come back, we’re going to be joined by two congressmembers, from two coasts: Jerrold Nadler here in New York and, as well, we’re going to be joined from Seattle by Pramila Jayapal. And we’re going to Texas, what a state legislator did there, demanding that Muslim leaders around the state answer a questionnaire about Islam. Stay with us.