ITHACA, N.Y. — An emergency rally was hosted to support immigrant and refugee rights on Saturday morning in downtown Ithaca after President Donald Trump issued anti-refugee executive orders Friday afternoon.
Trump’s order enacted a policy in which citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – majority Muslim countries – will be denied entry into the United States for 90 days, leaving
The rally, which began at 2 p.m. and went on for two hours, gathered nearly 400 people on the Ithaca Commons. It was organized last-minute by a group of Ithaca women who decided the executive orders called for a response.
Organizer Walaa Maharem-Horan, who moved to the US from Egypt when she was 13, said she became a U.S. citizen a few years ago.
“He’s imprisoning us, and in addition to that, he’s targeting us,” said Maharem-Horan as she explained that her mother, a U.S. citizen, will not be attending a close family member’s funeral in Egypt for fear of not being able to return.
“I choose to be here because I love this country more than (Trump) could ever understand. I love this country enough to stay and fight for it,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have the support to become a citizen, and now I have the right to speak.”
Paula Cohen, an additional organizer of the rally, was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. 22 years ago from the U.K. Cohen said her U.S. citizenship had been granted a year and a half ago.
“We all came here for freedom… freedom to do our jobs, we came for our careers, and we came because this is a country where you build your dreams and this has all changed in a week,” Cohen said.
Cohen, who attended the Women’s March in Washington last week, voiced her appreciation for the various perspectives and issues which emerged during the march.
“Everyone had a different voice, and everyone’s voice was valid, but today, we’re all marching for one reason,” she explained. “We all have different reasons but the whole gamesh is so scary and intimidating that you have to break it down.”
Tomkins County Legislator Anna Kelles made an appearance at the rally, speaking to the crowd about the discussion of introducing the city of Ithaca as a sanctuary city.
“Many cities are implementing sanctuary resolutions that simply state that they will stand by the people who are being persecuted – it needs to be more than that. It needs to be outlined specifically which actions will be taken,” Kelles said.
A recent presidential executive order states that the removal of certain federal grants will follow cities that stand up as sanctuaries. Kelles explain that the current status of the discussion remained in the research aiming to figure out how standing up as a sanctuary city would affect the federal funding of the city and county.
“The state law does not have any language specific to immigration law,” Kelles explained. “So we could, as a community, voluntarily agree to cooperate and do the bidding of the federal law with respect to immigration law. What we’re saying is: we are not going to even ask or inquire about someone’s immigration status if it is not relevant to what they’re investigation.”
Doa Abdel-Ghany, another rally organizer, said she came to Ithaca from Alexandria, Egypt as a child when her father began doing Alzheimer’s research for Cornell University.
“My heart sometimes goes into this deep sadness, but when I see what people are saying and what people are doing, I’m reassured that I’m not by myself,” she said. “I’ve been fighting this fight and fighting stereotypical views for my whole life, and now I don’t feel like I have to fight by myself.”
As Maharem-Horan spoke to the crowd, she motioned to her friend, co-worker and fellow rally organizer, Ellen Walsh, explaining to the crowd that the rally was organized as a joint effort initially between the two.
Walsh, who initially addressed rally attendees, said, “When you target a group of people based on their nationality or religion, you miss out on all the love and learning that you only get from people who have had a different experience in the world from you. When we close our hearts to people based on fear and stereotypes, we lose our humanity.”