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Groups gather to support immigrants, Congressional Reps invited but no show

By Yasmine Regester / February 24, 2017

Area residents attend the National Day of Congressional Action, in support of refugee resettlement for people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.  Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

Area residents attend the National Day of Congressional Action, in support of refugee resettlement for people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Photo by Charles Edgerton/Carolina Peacemaker

A broad movement of immigrants, refugees, members of the faith community and many more constituents have turned to their elected congressional representatives across the country, urging them to stand against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

In Greensboro, about 100 people from Church World Services, New Arrivals Institute, African Services Coalition, FaithAction International House, many other immigrant and refugee serving organizations and constituents gathered for a community meeting on Wednesday, February 22. The day was designated as the National Day of Congressional Action, in support of refugee resettlement for people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries.

“I am ashamed of the direction my country has taken,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson of Beloved Community Center. “Just because this is what our president said he was going to do, does not make it right. Let’s join together to provide protection and a loving, safe space for all those that have come to Greensboro.”

The community meeting was held to ask N.C. members of Congress as well as state representatives to call for the end to the cruel and unnecessary deportations destroying immigrant families; and to end immigration policies which discriminate against Muslims.

This community gathering comes on the heels of increased Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids, triggered by the president’s immigration executive order that sets up a deportation force. There has been massive backlash by people across the United States against Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban. Reports of panic, fear and helplessness have been expressed by members of refugee communities in the U.S.

In 2014, the City of Greensboro passed a resolution that declared Greensboro a “Stranger to Neighbor” City, which focuses on building bridges of understanding, trust and cooperation between immigrant neighbors and the community through education, exchange, community action, and sharing of experiences.

“This is a beautiful part of our city,” said Marikay Abuzuaiter, at-large Greensboro City Council person, who noted that her grandfather and husband were refugees when they came to the U.S. “Greensboro supports you, loves you, and wants to make you feel welcome here. I couldn’t imagine what my life would have been like if my grandfather had not been welcomed with open arms,” she said.

The council has to be careful of the language used when supporting the immigrant and refugee population, said Abuzuaiter, because the city runs the risk of losing federal funding, as per Trump’s orders, if a city declares themselves a “sanctuary city” for refugees.

Leilani Roughton, executive director of the New Arrivals Institute in Greensboro, noted that many refugees and immigrants come to America in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

“I can definitively say that refugees are some of the most hard-working, community oriented people you will ever meet,” she said.

Part of Trump’s immigration crackdown includes the hiring of 15,000 new border patrol and immigration enforcement agents, which U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials estimate will take at least two years to accomplish. It also expands the number of people targeted for deportation by including individuals who have committed any criminal offense where the charge has not been resolved, no matter how long ago or how minor it was- including traffic violations.

The president’s signed order also calls for the Department of Homeland Security to issue new agreements with local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws under the federal 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement to detain individuals for deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Refugee and immigrant assistance organizations say reauthorizing this program has caused fear and panic in the community.

“We’re here seeking security and safety. We come from places where there is no safety. It’s difficult to live. We want to be a part of this society. This is the land of dreams,” said Nafia Al Daghir, a refugee from Iraq.

The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department became a participant in the 287(g) program in 2009.

“The order puts any immigrant with little to no status in danger. Many are worried for themselves and their families. This also includes people who have been here for decades and have U.S. born children. We must not panic but stand together to protect one another,” said Sofia Mosquera, a FaithAction International House representative.

The executive order signed by Trump placed a ban on immigration travel from seven majority Muslim countries — Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Somalia, which was temporarily blocked by a federal court. Trump’s order also calls for a wall to be built along the U.S. southern border with Mexico and the construction of more detention centers.

Greensboro’s elected congressional members invited to the Congressional Action meeting but none of them were in attendance. A representative from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’ (R-NC) Greensboro office assured constituents that they can contact the office with any concerns.

Sen. Tillis issued a statement on Trump’s immigration ban in January, saying that, “the order should be refined to provide more clarity and mitigate unintended consequences that do not make our country any safer.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, 6th Congressional District, (R-NC) office declined to comment.


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