Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Durham on Friday to support refugees and immigrants and oppose President Donald Trump’s plan to ban refugees of Muslim countries.
Somalian refugee Muktar Muktar told the crowd it took several years after fleeing Somalia and then living in a Kenyan refugee camp before he finally came to Durham. Many refugees have spent so many years in camps in other countries that there is nowhere for them to go back to, he said.
The Durham office of Church World Service, the refugee-resettlement agency, organized the rally.
“We want leaders to know popular opinion is in favor of human rights and welcoming refugees,” said CWS Durham director Ellen Andrews. She said she hoped such rallies put a human face on refugees and immigration policy. “Every decision impacts hundreds of thousands of lives, not only here but around the world.”
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The president took several actions this week, ordering the building of a wall along the southwest border with Mexico, as well as increased enforcement of immigration laws and a clamp down on so-called sanctuary cities.
Trump is also expected to suspend issuing visas for people from several predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for at least 30 days, according to a draft executive order obtained by The Associated Press.
Marium Salum, a refugee from Congo since 2006, said she was separated from her family for years.
“I’m very happy and thankful for the U.S. government and CWS and those who brought me here,” Salum said. She hopes the rest of her family can still come to the U.S.
“For me to hear they might not be able to come here makes me feel bad,” she said. “I’d like to request the government to allow people to come here, allow family reunification so people can continue their life.”
Jeff Shaw brought a large handmade sign that read “Welcome All Refugees.” He came to the rally because “America is a nation of immigrants, and refugees want what we all want: a place to call home.”
“For the richest nation on earth to turn away refugee children fleeing war is the height of moral cowardice,” Shaw said. “How can you see the pictures coming out of Syria and not want to make those kids safe?”
Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson offered her solidarity with those at the rally.
“I will stand behind you and I will not back down,” Johnson said. “We are ready for a fight.”
Durham resident Peggy Schaeffer said she feels strongly about the refugees she knows and those she doesn’t know. She has volunteered with CWS and Lutheran Family Services since 1980, when she first helped a refugee family from Cambodia.
“They’re all good, hardworking citizens,” Schaeffer said.
City Councilman Charlie Reece, who also attended the rally, said there is no official definition of what a “sanctuary city” is, but rather a constellation of policies.
“We’re going to do everything we can do to protect the people of this city,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Carolina Student Legal Services, Justice Initiatives and the town of Chapel Hill will hold a forum, “Immigration Law and the New Administration,” from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, in the Carolina Union Auditorium on the UNC campus. Speakers will include:
▪ Professor Lynn Calder, Immigration Attorney and Supervisor, UNC School of Law Immigration Clinic
▪ Richard Sin, Immigration Attorney, Law Office of Matthew Suczynski, Chapel Hill, NC
▪ Jim Woodall, District Attorney for Orange and Chatham Counties
▪ Jeff McCracken, Chief of Police for UNC Public Safety
▪ Chris Blue, Chief of Police for Town of Chapel Hill
▪ Walter Horton, Chief of Police for Town of Carrboro
▪ Charles Blackwood, Orange County Sheriff
▪ Jonathan Sauls, Dean of Students for UNC-Chapel Hill
▪ Jim Huegerich, Town of Chapel Hill Ombuds Office