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Protesters say ‘immigrants are welcome here’ as 1,500 rally in Portland to oppose Trump’s order
The crowd shows support for Maine’s Muslims and immigrants in response to the president’s suspension of refugee programs and admissions from seven Muslim-majority nations.
About 1,500 people gathered Wednesday afternoon outside Portland City Hall to protest President Trump’s order banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
People chanted, “No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here,” and held signs with messages such as, “We are all immigrants,” “Build bridges, not walls” and “No to the ban, racism and Islamophobia.” The Portland Street Choir sang “We Shall Overcome” as people arrived for the rally.
Demonstrators spilled out of City Hall Plaza, prompting police to close a short section of Congress Street during the hour-long event.
“I’m so excited that so many people from our community came to show solidarity with the Muslim community,” said event organizer Hamdia Ahmed, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Southern Maine.
The protest was sparked by a series of immigration orders by Trump that have drawn widespread condemnation from immigrant, civil rights and human rights advocates, as well as career diplomats in the U.S. State Department.
On Monday, Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she ordered the Department of Justice not to defend the order he issued last week to temporarily halt immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations.
Trump’s order includes a 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and a 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – all Muslim-majority nations. The order is widely seen as Trump’s effort to make good on a campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
In response to his action, protesters filled airports across the country last weekend, including the Portland International Jetport, where more than 2,000 people gathered Sunday in opposition to the ban. A separate rally the same day at Portland City Hall drew about 1,200 people.
Portland police estimated Wednesday’s crowd at 1,500 people.
During the rally, Ahmed said a war in Somalia forced her mother to flee with her five children to a refugee camp in Kenya, where the family waited for seven years to earn refugee status, which was granted after a series of interviews and background checks. Like others in the camp, Ahmed’s family wanted only a safe place to live and a chance to build a life.
“Refugees come here to seek safety and now we’re afraid because of the hate we deal with on a daily basis,” she said. “We get told to go back to our country. There are people burning mosques and killing Muslims. Trump’s policy encourages this violence and blames an entire religion for all of the problems in our world.”
Ahmed said she still has family members in refugee camps.
“Some of us are afraid we will not be able to reunite with our families, like me,” she said.
Jeffrey Young, a civil rights attorney, said that as a Jew, he sees Trump’s actions as “eerily similar” to actions taken during the Holocaust. At that time, he said, a fear that Nazi spies would infiltrate the U.S. prompted America to heighten security, tighten visa requirements and ramp up screening. As a result, millions of Jews were killed.
“When I heard of the president’s order, I was reminded of my own ancestors,” Young said. “We can’t let him do it. We are all immigrants. We are all Muslims. We are all Jews. We are all Americans.”
Leslie Silverstein, president of the board of directors of the Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, which provides free legal services to immigrants, sought to reassure the immigrant community.