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MSP airport working to assess immigration ban's impact

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Immigration policy protesters at the airport
Immigration policy protesters at a rally against Trump's executive order on Jan. 29 at the airport.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News file

As President Trump's order halting immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries hangs in the legal balance, officials at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are trying to assess its impact.

So far, airport officials say no one has been detained at the Twin Cities airport since Trump signed the order Jan. 27.

Brian Ryks, the airport director, said he thinks it's unlikely Customs and Border Protection Agents will take action in Minnesota. It's mostly a federal immigration issue, he said.

If local officials hear of any cases here, Ryks said, "we will make accommodations to ensure we're doing all that we can to assist family members in that situation."

The airport is also grappling with the public reaction to the order, mainly by issuing permits and boosting police presence to handle protests. There have been four demonstrations against the order so far, the most recent on Friday.

Airport officials have also made accommodations for immigration attorneys. Initially, some lawyers were approaching arriving passengers, ostensibly to offer help.

The airport has asked immigration attorneys to limit their activity to a pair of "Freedom of Expression booths" near the baggage claim areas, said spokesman Pat Hogan, rather than seeking out clients with signs or active lobbying for business.

"If you allow one group to do that, then pretty soon you've got people saying hey, 'I do roofing. I can build your house, I do remodeling,'" Hogan said. "We can't just have everybody walking around providing their services."

Airport officials also noted that many of the staff at the airport are immigrants themselves and might draw hostility from travelers as debate over immigration policy grows.

Metropolitan Airports Commission officials say they're prepared to intervene if the immigration order causes friction between travelers and people who work at the airport, but that there hasn't been any trouble so far.