Just a day after newly-sworn President Donald Trump vowed to make good on his campaign promises to build a US-Mexico border wall and ban Muslim immigrants, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of New York organized an “emergency rally for Muslim and Immigrant Rights.”
More than 3,000 people gathered in Washington Square Park last night in a show of solidarity with Muslim and immigrant American communities. “This is the fight we’ve all been waiting for and it’s here,” Murad Awawdeh, political engagement director at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, adding, “Trump puts America’s immigrants at risk.”
Awawdeh then lead a chant of “no ban, no wall, this is our New York!”
A leaked copy of the executive order reveals that Trump will immediately end a decades-long U.S. policy of accepting refugees in relatively generous number. The proposed order prohibits any refugee resettlement for four months. It also bans refugees from war-torn Syria altogether. The order will suspend visas for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen—with final discretion ultimately left to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of State and Director of National Intelligence.
In a press conference on Wednesday, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer referred to these nationals as “people from a country that has a propensity to do us harm.”
A halt on immigration from these seven countries has been called reminiscent of the Bush-era anti-terror program called National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), in that it discriminates based on an individual’s country of origin. NSEERS, enacted following the September 11, 2001 attacks, succeeded in the harassment of Arab and Muslim Americans for over a decade, ultimately netting zero terrorism convictions.
From its very beginning the Trump campaign’s xenophobia found a scapegoat in Muslim, Arab and immigrant communities. However a 2015 study by the centrist think tank the New America Foundation rejected foreign extremism as the most urgent threat to America. Pointing to white supremacist violence, like Dylan Roof’s fatal attack on a South Carolina church and Wade Michael Page’s attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the think tank found that 48 people were killed by white terrorists since September 11, 2001, almost double that killed by Muslim radicals.
In fact the Hate Index, a watchdog operated by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, recorded 54 hate crimes against Muslims since Donald Trump’s election on November 8, 2016.
“The suspension of the refugee resettlement program and the banning of immigration from muslim majority countries…sends a very dangerous message,” Rabiah Ahmed, media and communications director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council told reporters in D.C. today. “Not only to the international community, but to Americans here.”
“Perhaps more disturbing, it creates this false sense of security that we are making our nation more secure, when in fact we are not,” Ahmed continued. “It distracts us from putting forth any real solutions to our national security issues.”
One of the more visceral speeches at Wednesday’s emergency rally came from a member of the New York City Commission on Human Rights—an anti-discrimination and anti-harassment advocacy organization.
“My name is Rama Issa Ibrahim, and I am Syrian. And I am an American. And I am an immigrant,” Ibrahim proclaimed, each sentence receiving louder and louder applause. “I came to this country when I was 15 years old. This issue is deeply personal to me. My father still lives in Syria. And I have family and friends who are refugees allover parts of Europe today.”
“This issue is deeply personal to me,” repeated Ibrahim. “I want you to know that this city is here to protect you, with every tool at our disposal, including holding violators of the New York City human rights law accountable and protecting those most vulnerable amongst us.”
In addition to advocates and grassroots organizers, city and state representatives spoke at the podium, promising solidarity to victimized New Yorkers.
Stating “this city can’t live and function without immigrants,” city comptroller Scott Stringer estimated the annual spending power of immigrants to be in the billions. “To my Muslim brothers and sisters, as a Jewish American, I want to see a united world and the way to do that is dump Trump and take to the streets.”
Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal called the banning of refugees “a stunning betrayal of our moral responsibility.”
And City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito decried “Trump’s vile, bigoted, divisive rhetoric,” warning that “we are heading down a dangerous path in this country.”
Many of those officials have also been fierce supporters of Israel. It wasn’t until a contingent of NYC Students for Justice in Palestine countered with chants of “free Palestine” and “from Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go” that the appeals of the liberal politicians seemed to grow more tepid.
Nerdeen Kiswani, of New York City Students for Justice in Palestine revealed that “as a Palestinian and immigrant, I did not feel welcome.”
“The fact that they could stand up last night and claim to stand up with Muslims was really hypocritical,” Kiswani told me. “When [City Council politicians] go to Israel, Muslims are seen as the enemy.”
Kiswani continued: “They stand with Muslims in the most vague way possible, but when it comes to standing with actual, real-life Muslims, they don’t do that. And I think the cause of Palestine is inseparable from standing with Muslims, or any oppressed people for that matter.”
“I think it’s actually a litmus test that they all failed.”
In fact, a number of the city officials who spoke at the rally have deep ties to Israel.
Speaking at a pro-Israel rally in 2014, Stringer sharply defended Israel in strikingly similar rhetoric: “We’ve got to fight back. It is up to us in New York City to make the case for Israel. We must be the people who defend Israel.”
Although Stringer also railed against Trump’s plan to build a wall with Mexico as “idiotic,” Trump has said that he modeled it after Israel’s own separation wall in the occupied West Bank—a wall that will ultimately be 440 miles long and that severely restricts freedom of movement for Palestinians and Muslims.
Just one year ago, City Council members Helen Rosenthal, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Corey Johnson—all of whom spoke at Wednesday’s rally—embarked on a nine-day trip to Israel, sponsored by the staunchly Zionist and at times Islamophobic Jewish Community Relations Council and the UJA Federation of New York.
Over forty community organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, strongly condemned the City Council delegation.
“The Jewish Community Relations Council may present a facade of nonpartisanship, but their right-wing pro-Israel policies are not representative of the Jewish community,” said Candace Graff, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace New York, in a January 2015 press release. “My Judaism does not include support for apartheid Israel, and the JCRC does not speak for me.”