by Eric Wallace
A series of Greensboro residents, faith groups and pro-refugee organizations gathered last week in Downtown Greensboro to voice their opposition to President Trump’s immigration policies and what local consequences they could have.
With many holding signs with slogans such as “Refugees and Immigrants Welcome” and “Love Thy Neighbor” the demonstrators listened as one-by-one, immigrants from a wide range of countries shared their story of becoming an American.
Many of them were concerned that recent executive orders issued by the Trump administration may force them out of the country and/or separate them from their families. The orders enhance the ability of law enforcement to round up and deport immigrants.
“Our police officers are not ICE officers,” Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said. “This city needs to be a safe haven.” Vaughan is herself the descendent of Syrian immigrants.
Under the newly reestablished Secure Communities program, local police officials will have the ability to check fingerprints and view the immigration records of a detainee. The individual would then be handed over to federal authorities and possibly deported according to the Washington Post. Critics of the program allege that the policy could lead to the police racially profiling foreigners and scrutinizing them for minor offenses.
Fari Dar-Bi, an immigration case manager and a refugee from Myanmar, expressed her concern as to what these orders could mean for immigrants in the community.
“President Trump’s executive orders really scare me,” said Dar-Bi. “I urge Congress’s leaders to help us refugees and for President Trump to listen. Greensboro must remain a welcoming city.”
Dar-Bi prefaced her speech with a story of her escaping her country after the military burned down her village. She fears that she and other refugees may be forced to return to the nightmarish conditions of their home countries.
One of Trump’s recent executive orders, which drastically reduces the number of refugees entering the U.S. was also an issue of concern for many. Meanwhile, all refugees from Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia have since been banned. The orders were issued out of fear of terrorists entering the U.S. by posing as refugees.
Those at the gathering want people to know that many of the refugees are good people who had no choice but to flee from the violence in their country.
“It was not my choice to leave,” said Daha Altaki, a newly-arrived Syrian refugee.
She explained that the brutal Syrian civil war, estimated to have killed between 300,000 and 400,000 people, forced her to leave her beloved homeland. She wants people to know that she wishes to live in Greensboro peacefully and that her status as a Syrian should not be viewed as threatening.
“Because I am Syrian, I am not a terrorist. Because I am Muslim, I am not a terrorist. I’m a human being.”
Many in the audience were wiping tears from their eyes and visibly moved during her speech.
“Our dream is to live in peace. We are brothers and sisters and I want to be a part of you,” Altaki concluded.
Wasif Qureshi of the Islamic Center of Greensboro urged listeners to consider how small the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are. He implored those in attendance to take out their phones and Google their odds of dying in one.
“Your odds are 1 in 20 million of dying in a terrorist attack,” said Qureshi. “That’s the same chance of dying in your bathtub, or killed by a dog or even killed by your own furniture.”
Under the order, called the “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, Trump made it clear during the signing ceremony that his administration will fulfill its promise of locking down the borders from potential foreign threats.
“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country,” Trump said as he signed the order that targets the largely Muslim populated countries.
To Lynn Thompson of the New Arrivals Institute, a local group that teaches English and cultural studies to refugees, barring people from the U.S. based on country of origin and religion is hypocritical to America’s values.
“Everyone knows the Declaration of Independence,” Thompson said. “That we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. Those words have for generations given people hope just as the Statue of Liberty has given hope and welcomed people into our country.”
To others in this country, the immigration system is already troublesome enough. While they stress that they contribute to their communities, they feel as though they are treated as second-class citizens.
Luis Flores, a Greensboro teenager, once dreamed of going to college and pursuing his dreams. However, his status as an immigrant brought into the country at a young age makes it difficult for him to afford going.
“Now, a document determines where I go to college,” said Flores. “A document is in charge of me and determines whether I get in-state or out-of-state tuition.”
Flores currently attends community college. While appreciative of the opportunity to pursue higher learning, he admits it is not what he once dreamed of.
“I am a part of this community,” he said. “I have worked here. I have volunteered here. I ask that you give back to those who have given so much for this community.”
Ultimately, the demonstrators called for two things: City unity and Washington’s ear.
“I am honored to live in this community that loves people of different faiths and backgrounds,” said Qureshi. “I urge them and you to stay engaged, talk to Congress and your local officials. Share these stories with them and let them know that we are a part of this community.”
Mayor Vaughan emphasized that nothing will change in Greensboro in terms of police activity and how they treat the immigrant community. She emphasized that she and Police Chief Wayne Scott are on the same page.
“We need to be the community that builds bridges, not walls,” Vaughan said.