WASHINGTON — Rallies in solidarity with refugees and immigrants should start happening in front of less-than-friendly faces, said Mark Hetfield.
“What we need to do is move this call to action from Washington, D.C., to red states, and red parts of blue states,” said Hetfield, president of HIAS, the veteran Jewish refugee aid agency.
Fresh from a rally on March 29 at Washington’s Adas Israel Congregation called Jews for Refugees Assembly, Hetfield said HIAS needs to go “where people are questioning whether we should be letting refugees into this country.”
The Adas Israel rally drew a crowd of 800 people. There was only one thing missing: a Republican speaker to address the gathering.
Every elected official who addressed the audience was a Democrat. Hetfield said that was a result of the partisan divide on refugees.
“HIAS invited speakers whom we knew were opponents of the refugee ban,” he said by email. “If we were aware of any Republican members of Congress or local elected officials who have spoken out against the March 6 executive order, we would have certainly invited them to address the rally,” he said, referring to Trump’s second executive order.
It banned immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries and suspended the U.S. refugee resettlement program, but was halted by courts in Maryland and Hawaii.
“I take it that Republicans are standing with the president during his honeymoon days,” Hetfield said. “Hopefully those who were pro-refugee in the past will come back. We have no desire to be partisan on this.”
At the rally, called #JewsForRefugees, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called the executive order “an affront to American values [and] a repudiation of the tenets of basic human decency.”
Hetfield said that the second executive order was only “a little less cruel, and a little less chaotic than the first one. But make no mistake about it, the second executive order was still a refugee ban. It was still a Muslim ban. The ban may not have been against all Muslims, but it certainly targeted Muslims.”
Organized by HIAS, Adas Israel and the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, the event was co-sponsored by 21 local and national organizations and 33 area synagogues.
Hand in hand with the issue of immigration is sanctuary cities, a topic raised by most of the evening’s speakers.
There is no legal definition of a sanctuary city but it is generally considered a place that strives to protect illegal immigrants from deportation.
“I am proud to say that Washington, D.C., is a sanctuary city,” said Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-large), to applause.
“What is the policy of our local police?” said Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1). “We do not cooperate. What is the policy of our local jail? We do not cooperate.”
Washington has joined New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities in saying they will not help federal authorities with anything relating to deportations.
Trump has threatened state and local governments with loss of federal funding if they refuse to cooperate. The Justice Department said it may withhold up to $4.1 billion in federal grants from sanctuary cities.
As the night went on, speakers did not become any friendlier to the White House.
JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber said his organization is advocating for the adoption of the Maryland Trust Act, which “will prohibit the state from creating or complying with any government-regulated registry based on religion, race or ethnicity,” he said.
That would effectively prohibit a “Muslim registry,” another promise Trump repeated during his presidential campaign. It would also bar police from questioning people about their immigration or citizenship status.
“Living in a post 9/11 world means we must continue applying the already stringent background checks now being performed on every refugee who seeks entry into the United States,” Halber said. “But security must not be an excuse to deny entry to those … fleeing persecution.”
Security has become the administration’s primary justification for its executive orders surrounding the immigration bans. The White House repeatedly invoked the Sept. 11 attacks in its initial executive order and Justice Department lawyers have argued in court that the president has the authority to stop foreign nationals from entering the country if they pose a threat to national security.
Other speakers at the rally included Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.); Leon Rodriguez, former director of U.S. citizenship and immigration services; Alfred Münzer, who survived the Holocaust after being rescued by an Indonesian family; and Aliaa Noha Khaled, who is seeking asylum in the United States with her two daughters.
Rachel Cooper, who attended the rally, said she flew into Dulles International Airport from Tanzania the day after Trump issued his first travel ban on Jan. 27. She said that seeing a crowd of protesters at the airport that day inspired her to voice support for refugees.
“It was sort of a pivotal moment, when it just all really solidified how important this issue is and how much there is to be done,” she said.
Shira Markoff, another attendee, said if the Trump administration will not change its position, she hopes rallies like last week’s will send a message to the Muslim world that not all Americans agree with Trump’s policies.
Justin Katz writes for the Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of The Jewish Chronicle.