by Francesca Fontana | The Register-Guard
With a few hours’ preparation, about 1,000 protesters gathered on the steps of the federal courthouse in Eugene on Sunday to rally against President Trump’s executive order seeking “extreme vetting” for people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.
The order, which restricts entry for 90 days and suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, led to chaos at the nation’s airports Saturday, which in turn resulted in large, spontaneous demonstrations. Travelers from the nations named in the order were detained by the travel ban, some threatened with deportation back to war zones.
U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly in New York issued an emergency order Saturday night that temporarily blocked deportation of people with valid visas and who arrived after the travel ban went into effect. But confusion remained Sunday about who could stay and who will be kept out of the country in the near future.
Karen Kelsky said she and her friends in the local activist organization Take Action! Eugene put the protest event together in less than 12 hours, having started preparations around “dinner time Saturday.”
“When I first heard (of the travel ban), I was shocked and appalled,” Kelsky said. “A ban against immigration of any kind is absolutely unconstitutional … and un-American.”
Kelsky said that as a Jew, a grandchild of immigrants from eastern Europe and the mother of biracial children whose father is an immigrant with a green card, she just had to do something.
“I’ve never organized anything like this before,” she said. “I couldn’t be silenced.”
As she addressed the crowd in her opening statement Sunday, she said that now is not the time to be passive.
“We must look to the lessons of history,” she said. “There is no time to wait and see.”
Immigrants and scholars from the Middle East already have been affected by Trump’s order, she said.
“There are thousands of Muslims here (who are) an essential part of the university community,” she said, and many of them who have left to do their research or to visit family abroad are now trapped.
“The academic world was instantly impacted,” she said.
University of Oregon President Michael Schill released a statement Sunday afternoon, saying that the university is troubled by the executive order: “The UO is proudly committed to welcoming talented individuals from all countries to study, teach, and carry out research and scholarship on our campus,” he wrote. “We stand with the Association of American Universities in supporting a visa system that ‘prevents entry by those who wish to harm us, while maintaining the inflow of talent that has contributed so much to our nation.’”
Possible bias crime
The rally was scheduled at the courthouse from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday and did not include plans for a march.
However, about 150 protesters started an unscheduled march through downtown, blocking streets. At one point they damaged a truck parked at West 11th Avenue that was displaying a Trump flag.
Eugene police reported in a press release Sunday that “the flag was ripped off and partially burned. A tire on the vehicle was also punctured, and there was damage from people pounding on the hood. The driver was not harmed.” Police said they are investigating the incident as a possible bias crime. They asked witnesses to call 541-682-5111.
Kelsky confronted the group at Broadway Plaza who had marched the wrong way and were blocking traffic, asking them to join the rally back at the courthouse. The break-away crowd initially refused, but most of the people who had been walking with them instead followed Kelsky, and the rest of the group disbanded about a block away, with police following.
Immigrants and refugees addressed the crowd outside the courthouse during the rally.
Eugene resident Maha Khawaja said she heard about the rally three hours before it started. As an American citizen, she said she isn’t worried for herself, but she fears for the families who might be separated due to the travel ban.
“(What if someone) last week went to visit their family in Jordan, in Syria, in Yemen?” she said. “What’s going to happen to this family if the mother went to visit and she has children here? Separating families — since when is this American?”
Message of acceptance
Former Muslim Student Association president Haytham Abu Adel told the crowd that he originally is from Yemen, one of the countries affected by Trump’s travel ban, and came to Eugene five years ago. He said that the idea that all Muslims are terrorists is dangerous and simply untrue.
“I’m not here to kill you!” he said. “I’m here to love you!”
He had a message for President Trump: “America is great and will always be great by the people. … America is great because we accept one another.”
Hussain Rachou is living in Eugene while his wife and children are stuck in Dubai, still in the process of getting a visa.
“I don’t know if I’m going to see them anymore,” he said, his voice breaking.
A woman in the crowd shouted reassurance: “You will see them again, because we will overcome this!”
As Rachou waved to the crowd and made a peace sign, the crowd began to chant.
“We are with you! We are with you! We are with you!”