Among the activists, politicians and immigrants gathered at Seattle to denounce President Trump’s approach to refugees was a Syrian couple who had hoped next week to be reunited with their children, also fleeing Syria.
With her husband and two children standing nearby, an unidentified refugee mother from Syria nervously took to the podium of a downtown Seattle church early Friday to implore President Trump to abandon plans for an executive order that would ban certain foreign refugees and crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Through a translator, the woman and her husband, Ahmad — both too afraid to give their full names — explained that four members of their family left their war-ravaged homeland just a month ago, leaving behind the couple’s two adult children and a son-in-law.
The three who are fleeing Syria are scheduled to arrive here Monday to reunite the family, the woman said. Now she feared — speaking before Trump was to sign the executive order — that might never happen.
“She said, ‘We came to the U.S. looking for safety, after having so many days in war, and having to go through all these bad days,’” said Jasmin Samy, a civil-rights manager for the Council on American-Islamic Affairs-Washington, translating for the audience listening to the woman.
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“We came here looking for the safety, and we hope, and we ask, and we pledge to President Trump not to sign the executive order, because there are so many others, from other countries, that are going through the same wars and going through the same issues that we had to go through. We came to this beautiful country looking for safety.”
The Syrian family was among an array of church leaders, representatives from social-justice organizations, politicians and individual immigrants and refugees gathered at Plymouth Congregational Church in Seattle to stand together against Trump’s emerging policies on refugees.
On Friday afternoon, Trump directed the State Department to stop issuing visas to Syrian nationals and halt the processing of Syrian refugees. That policy is to remain in effect until Trump determines that enough security changes have been made to ensure that would-be terrorists can’t exploit weaknesses in the current vetting system.
The executive order suspends for 90 days immigration from countries with terrorism concerns: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — all Muslim-majority nations.
Trump also ordered the broader refugee program suspended for four months. The suspension is intended to provide time to review how refugees are vetted before they are allowed to resettle in the United States.
In all, Trump’s order also cuts the number of refugees the U.S. plans to accept this budget year by more than half, to 50,000 people from around the world.
Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network) initiative, who served as emcee for Friday morning event, issued a “statement of solidarity” on behalf of the coalition that vowed to resist Trump’s actions.
“These actions criminalize entire communities based on their immigration status, their religion and their nation of origin and would invite widespread racially discriminatory profiling by immigration authorities,” she said.
Already signed by more than 100 groups and individuals, the statement and the event were meant to rally like-minded people to help fight what organizers decried as hate-mongering.
U.S. Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, both Democrats, separately vowed to combat the president’s actions.
“He came into office, let’s be clear, demonizing immigrants and other-izing immigrants and refugees, promising to build a wall and promising to deport millions and millions of people,” Jayapal said.
“But there are legal challenges, there are challenges in the court of public opinion, that we will continue to fight,” she added. “We intend to look at all the legal analysis of what he actually can and cannot do through these executive orders. Again, (there’s) a lot of smoke and mirrors — certainly some threats that he can carry through on — but the reality is, he is not going to be able to do everything that he says he’s going to do.”
Smith added that Trump’s targeted bans to thwart entry of refugees from Muslim nations will create more enemies, helping ISIS and al-Qaida grow stronger. He called Trump’s policies counter to American values and “borderline fascist solutions” that would take the nation back “to a very, very dark place.”
“This is not written in stone,” Smith added. “We can stand up and fight. That’s the most important thing we can do — to not give up.”
Wendy Martinez Hurtado, 25, the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants who relocated to Tacoma when she was 7, said her parents’ sacrifices allowed her to get an education. In 2013, Hurtado received “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” status, allowing her to work, receive health care and financially support her family, she said.
During the campaign, Trump signaled he would repeal DACA for so-called “Dreamers,” such as Hurtado, who came to the U.S. illegally as children.
“The orders are hate-filled and dishonest,” Hurtado said. “The new administration is intending to divide us, but I know that we’re much stronger than they ever imagined. “