Several thousand protesters streamed into Halifax Mall, an open grassy area in the middle of the state government office complex, to voice their opposition to the immigration policies of President Donald Trump.
Brandishing colorful signs on a chilly Saturday, the protesters said they are alarmed at Trump’s recent executive orders to restrict travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries that the U.S. government has classified as breeding grounds for terrorism. Those in attendance declared solidarity with all refugees and immigrants, and denounced hatred and racism.
The messages on placards expressed support for political refugees, embraced human rights, and proclaimed the United States as a nation of immigrants. Some displayed political humor at Trump’s expense. “Tweet others the way you’d like to be Tweeted,” one sign read, in a reference to the Republican president’s penchant for expressing himself through social media.
Some in the crowd, which swelled to several thousand, said they are veterans of “Moral Monday” protests against Republican policies in North Carolina. Others had participated in last month’s women’s march in Washington and vowed the public demonstrations would continue.
Ahmed Rab, 26, a student at Eastern Virginia Medical School, said he knows several classmates who have been affected by Trump’s travel restrictions. Rab, a U.S. citizen who was born in Bangladesh, said his sister lives in Cary, so he traveled to North Carolina to attend the rally.
“Everyone needs to feel safe where they are,” Rab said of those who feel threatened by Trump. “That allows us to support all of each other’s causes whether or not they align with our beliefs.”
A British demonstrator said that he came to the rally to exercise his power of dissent, rather than protest virtually online.
Luke Hallam, 27, said he wanted to “join with people who have similar beliefs and to stretch those muscles that have been weakened under Obama.” Hallam, a Raleigh resident who said he holds a green card and is studying political science here, said he was troubled by what he sees as Trump’s appeal to jingoism and xenophobia.
Others fear democracy itself is being put to the test.
“People are starting to realize how quickly the institutions we take for granted can become imperiled,” said Ted Hornick, a 32-year-old librarian from Raleigh. “There’s a real imperative to keep involved and let others know you’re invested.”
Organizers lined up speakers from social justice and refugee advocacy organizations, including several refugees in this country already. Sijal Nasralla, an organizer for Church World Service and N.C. United for Refugees and Immigrants, said the groups stand for creating sanctuaries for refugees, and urging universities to provide an education regardless of immigration status.
One of the speakers, Wildin Guillén Acosta of Durham, is a 20-year old refugee from Honduras. He said he’s been in this country 2 1/2 years and spent about seven months in the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. Guillén Acosta is seeking political asylum from gang violence in his native land and has an asylum hearing coming up in August. Out on a $10,000 bond, he aspires to become an electrical engineer.
“I know what it means to be a refugee,” he said in Spanish. Of his time in detention, Guillén Acosta said “it’s the hardest thing that can happen to you.”
Separately, a federal judge on Friday temporarily suspended Trump’s week-old travel ban, setting the stage for a legal clash and continued protests. Rallies against Trump’s ban have erupted throughout the United States and abroad as critics have characterized Trump’s actions as rooted in bigotry and Islamophobia.
North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse said the judge’s order was “an error” and will be reversed on appeal.
“Nobody has a constitutional right to come from another country and be granted entry into the United States,” Woodhouse said. “We have a right to try to determine who can come here safely.”
Speaking from the GOP office on Saturday morning before the protest took place, Woodhouse dismissed Saturday’s protesters as “the constant protesting class.”
“There is a lot of vitriol that seems to me people complaining because the election didn’t come out their way,” Woodhouse said. “Everything cannot be an existential crisis to the United States that President Trump is doing. Because if everything is the worst thing in the world, then nothing is.”