Janene Smith (right) organized Sunday's rally that drew more than 100 demonstrators to Marion Square
More than 100 people gathered around the Charleston Holocaust Memorial Sunday evening, their voices blending together as they sang the National Anthem in staunch opposition to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration.
Under Trump’s new order titled “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” Syrian refugees are prohibited from entering the country indefinitely, all refugee admissions are blocked for 120 days, and American borders are closed to all citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days. For those taking part in the impromptu demonstration in Marion Square Sunday, the concept of closing off the United States to those seeking refuge is a mistake that has been made too many times in the past.
“I’m very deeply concerned about what the new administration is doing and the steps that they’re taking to divide us from people from different countries, of different religions. When this executive order came out on Friday, I think it hit everyone really hard,” said event organizer Janene Smith, who is a member of local advocacy group Indivisible Charleston. “It was mid-morning that I said I was going to be here, and said if anyone wanted to come out here with me in the spirit of remembering what happened during World War II. We don’t want that to happen again, and we feel dangerously close to that.”
According to SC for Refugee Justice, a local group working to assist Lutheran Services Carolina to aid in the resettlement of refugees, four families have been relocated to the Charleston area, but supplies are needed to help accommodate those who have reached the United States. Smith and others who spoke during Sunday’s rally called on everyone within earshot to reach out to their local representatives, congressmen, and senators, and demand that they take a stand against the new immigration ban. In response to questions about Trump’s executive order, U.S. Rep Mark Sanford told the Post and Courier
that many of his constituents have voiced their concerns about the ban and “that even if you’re going to enact this policy, the way in which it was done just seems bizarre.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a joint statement along with Sen. John McCain, saying that the executive order was not properly vetted and echoed reports that the order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.
“Such a hasty process risks harmful results. We should not stop green-card holders from returning to the country they call home. We should not stop those who have served as interpreters for our military and diplomats from seeking refuge in the country they risked their lives to help. And we should not turn our backs on those refugees who have been shown through extensive vetting to pose no demonstrable threat to our nation, and who have suffered unspeakable horrors, most of them women and children,” the senators added. “Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism ... This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
And for those who have come to America in search of safety, opportunity, and hope, the decision to close the nation’s borders presents a danger to their way of life. Mohamad Yser Orabi, a doctor at MUSC who attended Sunday night’s vigil, left his home in Syria to earn an education. Now, he sees doctors, pharmacists, and medical students born outside of the United States barred from re-entry. It’s a frustrating situation for Orabi, who like so many others arrived in America in pursuit of a better life.
“I believe in the American dream. Everyone outside of this country, you always hear about the American dream. I came over here to receive my medical education because the educational health system over here is one of the best in the world,” said Orabi. “Meanwhile, I’m doing my residency, helping the American people, and I’m seeing a lot of appreciation from the people I help. I don’t look at my patients when I treat them and think based on their political beliefs, their ethnicity, or anything like that. When you treat them, they all show you their appreciation and it reminds me how great is this nation.”