Advocates call for humanitarian response after temporary halt to Trump’s Muslim ban

“Don’t hate the refugees because they are human beings.”

Immigrant and refugee advocates, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (center), celebrate rulings that block President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee
Immigrant and refugee advocates, including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (center), celebrate rulings that block President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dozens of faith leaders, immigrant advocates, and refugees gathered outside the White House on Thursday to celebrate the temporary halt of President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban by two federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland, expressing their opposition to what they perceived as discriminatory policies against refugees and immigrants.

Trump’s revised executive order, which was set to take effect on Thursday, aimed to ban travelers and immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries for three months, stop refugee resettlement for four months, and sharply draw back the number of refugee admissions to the United States from 110,000 to 50,000 people. Both federal judges used Trump’s own words about Muslims to prevent the order from taking place.

Senai Obong, an Ethiopian refugee, was one of the speakers on this cold March day who spoke passionately about the need to see refugees as human beings. Obong himself fled Gambella after the December 13, 2003 massacre in which government soldiers killed hundreds of civilians. Prior to resettling in the United States, Obong lived in a refugee camp where “life was very quite hard. There was not enough water, not enough food, not clean water, no comfortable place to sleep.” He also wasn’t able to receive an education, which would have opened up career options.

“I never dreamed that one day, I would be in the U.S.A,” he said. He ended his speech by imploring the Trump administration to stop trying to enforce its ban.

“Don’t hate the refugees because they are human beings,” Obong said. “They left their country. We love them. We need them.”

Advocates hold signs in support of refugees and immigrants outside the White House. CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee
Advocates hold signs in support of refugees and immigrants outside the White House. CREDIT: Esther Yu Hsi Lee

Other advocates attended the rally because they wanted to show support for immigrants who are critical to the U.S. economy.

Giev Kashkooli, a vice president at the farmworkers advocacy group United Farm Workers, cheered on the “checks and balances” that temporarily stopped Trump’s Muslim ban. But Kashkooli was also concerned that the other elements of Trump’s immigration policies would affect the agricultural industry, which employs many immigrant laborers.

“It’s New Americans who are the professional, competent farmworkers right now and it’s folks who are supporting families and literally feeding America,” Kashkooli told ThinkProgress, switching off hands in the freezing cold to hold a large Statue of Liberty cut-out carrying a sign reading, “Refugees Welcome.”

“If you were to take Trump’s deportation force, you would wipe out making food here in the United States because you’ll be removing all the professional farmworkers,” he pointed out.

Agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture have echoed similar concerns in the past, warning that mass deportation could have significant impacts on the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry.

Sister Marie Lucey, a Franciscan sister and associate director with the Franciscan Action Network, braved the cold to rally outside the White House because her Christian values compelled her to stand for other faiths.

“We have a wonderful relationship with the Muslim community,” Lucey said. “A lot of them are living in fear right now so it’s just a good opportunity to be here because we’re interfaith. I’m grateful that Hawaii for that decision, I know it’s temporary, but we hope it’ll be a permanent opposition to this ban.”

“I’m a Christian,” Lucey added, explaining that the ban was contrary to Christian and American values. “It’s false speak. [Trump is] not doing this on behalf of Christians. Christians stand arm in arm with Muslims, with Jews. We don’t need him to defend Christians.”