Over 1,000 Yemeni-American bodega owners rallied on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall Thursday evening in protest of President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen.
“There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 small businesses owned by Yemeni-Americans living in New York City,” a news release about the rally said. “As a result of the White House’s action, many local families have been split apart, with loved ones detained, sent back, or not allowed to enter on an existing green card or visa.”
Joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James, people held flags and signs that said, “No ban, No wall,” and “The United Immigrants of America.”
The ralliers took part in the Muslim sunset prayer. A chorus of more than a thousand voices called out.
“Today, I am Yemeni,” Adams said following the prayer. “Today is our day. We are here to protest, to pray and to show we are patriotic.”
Adams told the crowd they are sending a “clear message” that they have the right to be a part of the American dream.
“You have the right to be part of what America stands for. You too, are American,” he said as the crowd broke out in chants of “U-S-A.”
Yemeni-American bodega owners across the five boroughs also shut down their businesses for eight hours Thursday.
“And today we come together to support your boycott, because we want this country to know this is a country built by immigrants ... together we are strong,” said James. “We are strong together and we are united because we are Muslims today.”
Mark-Viverito said she was deeply moved by the protest.
“We are all one, we are all united and we will push back against this executive order,” the council speaker added.
Among the participants was Issam Hassan, 26, who closed the deli he owns with his family on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“For me, it felt like it was a small step in a good direction,” said Hassan. “I know it’s not going to be easy to change public opinion in one night, but if people understand that this is your family, your friends, your neighbors, the place where you get your sandwiches from, maybe they’ll realize we have problems and we have issues that are affecting us.”
Closing a deli or bodega, even for one day, he said, is difficult.
“We’re not millionaires out there,” he said. “Closing for one day really hurts a lot of people’s bottom lines. But they’re out here for a better and greater cause.”
Abubakr Muflahi, 20, of Far Rockaway, was born in Yemen and came to the United States when he was about a year old.
“It’s not right for Donald Trump to do what he’s doing right now,” said Muflahi, who is now a U.S. citizen and studying criminal justice. “I’m here for my friends and family who are from Yemen.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Trump has an “obligation” to support “all our people.”
“When you disregard the constitution it’s time to get impeached. We have to come together as one nation and reject hatred,” Stringer said.
The store shutdown also received a boost of support from the Office & Professional Employees International Union Local 153, which represents 16,000 workers in fields ranging from registered nurses to clinical social workers and teachers.
“The owners want to demonstrate the enormous contributions that immigrants from these countries make in local communities to serve the American public,” the union said in a statement. “The absence of immigrant entrepreneurs in this country would have a devastating economic effect on the community.”
The organizers chose Downtown Brooklyn for the location of the rally in part because of its importance to the Yemeni-American community.
The order bans immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days, suspends the U.S. Refugee Program for 120 days and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely.