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Sunday, January 29, 2017

New Orleans joins nationwide immigration ban protests

Posted By and on Sun, Jan 29, 2017 at 8:45 PM

click to enlarge Several hundred people marched from City Hall to Lee Circle to protest anti-immigration measures targeting people from majority-Muslim countries. - KAT STROMQUIST
  • KAT STROMQUIST
  • Several hundred people marched from City Hall to Lee Circle to protest anti-immigration measures targeting people from majority-Muslim countries.

"I couldn't stay home another day watching the news," said Maha Buchholz, holding back tears as she spoke through a megaphone to several hundred people outside New Orleans City Hall. Thousands of people around the U.S. continue to protest Donald Trump's executive order banning immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries, leaving families in customs limbo in several airports and raising constitutional questions as a campaign promise of a "total and complete ban" on Muslim entry turned into "extreme vetting." A rally outside City Hall Jan. 29 joined the growing nationwide protest against the Trump administration's freeze on refugee and immigrant entry.

"The president is supposed to be the grown-up in the room, not a bratty child," said Buchholz, whose family immigrated to New Orleans in the 1970s. "These refugees are escaping war. They had homes like us. They are teachers. They are doctors ... I've lived in New Orleans all my life. I grew up going to Mardi Gras, and I met my New Orleans husband here. And we are raising our family here. And guess what? I am a Muslim."
click to enlarge Several hundred people rallied outside New Orleans City Hall Jan. 29. - KAT STROMQUIST
  • KAT STROMQUIST
  • Several hundred people rallied outside New Orleans City Hall Jan. 29.

More than a dozen speakers — immigrants as well as first, second, third and fourth generation Americans whose families immigrated to the U.S. from Latin America, Europe, Russia and the Middle East — urged New Orleanians and city leaders to stand with their immigrant residents. A Syrian woman who escaped the country's brutal civil war said she fears her parents won't be able to do the same. "Right now they are overseas and I can't see them," she said. "I please ask to bring hope to these families."

Tahera "Ty" Siddiqui's family left India for Pakistan during the Partition only to endure a civil war in Pakistan. Siddiqui's father was one of three children among 10 to survive. He later studied at a university in Pakistan before moving to Greece and immigrating to the U.S., where he worked at a Greek restaurant and pizza joint. He's now a taxi driver in New York City.

"Islam is not one big enemy. It is comprised of devout people. And they're just people trying to make it through this world," Siddiqui said. "There are racists out there, there are bigots, there are people out there who don't want to listen. Try and make them listen. Try and make them realize and remember these are just people looking for a better life."

At-Large City Councilmember Jason Williams, holding a small cardboard sign reading "Not My America," addressed the crowd with Pastor Martin Niemöller's "First they came" poem. "[Donald Trump] is not the first racist president, and he's not the smartest racist president we've ever had," said Williams, adding that the "island of New Orleans" — which survived the governance of Bobby Jindal "who was just as bad" — "will not stand for Donald Trump's America."

Speakers argued that Trump is using immigration issues as a scapegoat to build a false nationalism that divides the U.S. and speculated that a closed-border policy gives the government permission to police without impunity. Angela Kinlaw with Take 'Em Down NOLA said "it is imperative we remember that oppression isn't intended to have any one of us out here win."

"If they come for one of us, they'll come after all of us," she said.
click to enlarge Jenny Yanez, left, addresses the crowd outside City Hall. - KAT STROMQUIST
  • KAT STROMQUIST
  • Jenny Yanez, left, addresses the crowd outside City Hall.

Pascal Lola, a first generation American whose family moved to the U.S. from Congo in 2000 as refugees, held his infant son as he tugged at the microphone. "I'm not a Muslim. I'm a Christian ... I do want to apologize on behalf of any Christians you've seen not stand with you," Lola told the crowd. "The reason I'm here is I'm thinking about my son and the kind of world he might have to grow up in. This is pretty bad, but it could get really worse if people stay silent. That's why I'm here today, to stand with my fellow Muslims and say 'we are here with you.'"

Tulane University professor Zeigham Khokher was born in Kuwait. His parents, now living in Canada, lived there through the Gulf War. "Donald Trump says people fleeing from war-torn areas don't contribute," he said. "I would put what my mom and dad have done after coming here against what he has done any day."

Khokher, addressing speculation of a Muslim "registry" in the U.S., said he faced a similar decision at an airport in 2005 after leaving Canada for a job interview. "Donald Trump says, if it need be, he's OK with registering Muslims," he said. "I can tell you firsthand. I stood at that airport, and I thought about it for 45 minutes or so. 'Do I want to turn back?' Let me make it very clear. I have three daughters. Ain't nobody registering them."

The crowd marched from City Hall to Lee Circle chanting "no hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here" and "hands too small, can't build a wall" as cabs and cars honked and waved. At Lee Circle, the crowd joined hands and formed a circle around the grass surrounding several Muslim men and women in prayer.

"[Trump] forgot where he came from," said Fauod Zeton, who removed a Syrian flag from his shoulders and waved it from the grass at Lee Circle. "He forgot his background."
click to enlarge A protester at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. - KEVIN ALLMAN
  • KEVIN ALLMAN
  • A protester at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, a much smaller group of about two dozen protesters organized by the Radical Arts & Healing Collective held signs and chanted on the lower level of the airport. Watching were several Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies and representatives of the National Lawyers Guild. Marjorie Esman with the ACLU of Louisiana told Gambit that the group will monitor the airport; a federal judge issued an emergency stay on Trump’s executive following a lawsuit filed by the national ACLU on behalf of two men at John F. Kennedy airport. (At City Hall, Esman told the crowd that the group is prepared to file suits in "dozens more cities if we need to.")

"No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!," they chanted, holding bilingual signs that read "Love is Liberation."

"You know the quote from Nazi Germany?" said one woman, who chose not to give her name, referencing Niemöller's poem. "Well, I don't want to wait for it to be something that affects my body."

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