Immigration activists shuttled from terminal to terminal at La Guardia Airport in New York late Wednesday night, after news spread on social media that children who had been separated from their parents at the United States-Mexico border might be arriving on flights.
Hours earlier, President Trump had signed an executive order saying that the policy of separating immigrant children and parents would stop, but in New York hundreds of children had already arrived to be placed in shelters or foster care.
The protesters held signs at security gates that read “Bienvenidos a New York,” and “Te amamos.” And they sang protest songs like “We Shall Overcome,” in English and Spanish, that reverberated through the otherwise largely empty airport.
Groups like Make the Road New York, an immigrant activist group, posted calls to action on Twitter, and as the night continued, the numbers swelled.
Outside Terminal B — not long after a group of seven boys was spotted getting off American Airlines Flight 2716, wearing dark hoodies and carrying government-labeled belongings — a circle of about 200 protesters gathered along the taxi line to plan for how they might lend support to other children getting off planes, though there was no way to determine immediately which might have been separated from their parents.
An American Airlines spokesman, Ross Feinstein, said in an interview that it had delayed the flight from Dallas-Fort Worth by 33 minutes until it got reassurances from government officials that these teenagers were not among those who had been separated from their parents. But a cluster of flight attendants who had been on board stood nearby after the children deplaned, visibly distraught. “They lied to us,” one flight attendant said.
Brian Marriott, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency was looking into the matter at La Guardia.
In many ways, the airport gathering was reminiscent of the protests touched off last year by Mr. Trump’s initial executive order banning travel to the United States by residents of a group of mostly Muslim countries. In the crowd on Wednesday night, the Muslim activist Linda Sarsour and New York City Council members Jumaane D. Williams and Jimmy Van Bramer stood alongside speakers.
Leading an impassioned chant, Cristina Jiménez, the executive director of United We Dream, a youth-led activist group, told the crowd that she had been told that a crew member on one of the flights tried to communicate with an unaccompanied minor by writing on a piece of paper. “‘What are your names? What are your parents’ names?’” she recounted.
“We are here to say that we’re not going to stand for the criminalization of immigrants in this country,” Ms. Jiménez continued. “That the act of coming to this country to seek refuge is not a crime.”
After midnight, protesters gathered outside a gate in Terminal C to greet a final Delta Air Lines flight arriving from Houston. But police officials shuttered the security gates around 2 a.m., with no separated children in sight.