Surrounded by inflatable rafts and photographs of refugees, about 25 people slept in tents outside Manhattan’s Trinity Church on Tuesday night in protest of President Trump’s executive orders suspending the U.S. refugee program and travel from certain Muslim-majority countries.
Trump’s initial travel ban was met with a swift backlash and stymied by the courts. He vowed to continue the legal battle for it after his revised, more carefully tailored executive order was also blocked.
“We’re spending just one night here and we can always go inside if we get cold, if we get wet, but refugees don’t have that option available to them,” said Amaha Kassa, executive director of African Communities Together, as rain began to beat down on the makeshift tent city.
Tuesday night’s campout was part of a 24-hour action led by the New York City-based community organization, which is campaigning for refugees and the federal asylum and resettlement programs that support them.
“Trump’s executive orders are going to cut the heart out of these programs,” said Kassa, who came to the U.S. from Ethiopia at age 4 as an asylum seeker.
“I am a child of refugees. … I found safety here,” he said. “And it hurts my heart to think that other communities that are in danger, we would turn our back to them.”
Following a rally at one of Trump’s buildings on Wall Street Tuesday, members and supporters of African Communities Together marched to Trinity Church for a teach-in on the history between U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian crises around the world. Even with a microphone, speakers had to fight to be heard over the angry shouts of a single pro-Trump protester, who yelled things like “Islamo-fascists” and “support President Trump, support the ban” from outside the church gates.
“Don’t feed the trolls,” Kassa said, as the group broke for dinner, which had been provided by an organization that promotes refugee recipes.
Among the small mass huddled over the warm food was Kelebohile Nkhereanye, a member of African Communities Together who immigrated to the U.S. 39 years ago from the tiny African kingdom of Lesotho. Just last year she became a U.S. citizen.
Nkhereanye couldn’t stay overnight because she had to work at 6 a.m. Wednesday — she is a subway station agent for the New York City Transit Authority, where she’s worked for 23 years. Still, she felt it was important to show up in solidarity of those affected by Trump’s executive orders, in particular, her fellow Africans.
Three of the countries on Trump’s travel ban are in Africa: Sudan, Somalia and Libya. Though Lesotho is not one of them, Nkhereanye said she’s not taking anything for granted.
“We don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” she said. “Therefore as Africans we have to unite and say, ‘We are affected by the travel ban.’”
The 24 hours of action will continue Wednesday with a march from the church to Manhattan’s Federal Plaza, and end with a rally in Foley Square, the setting for many of the city’s protests.
“Here in New York, we’re a city that’s been shaped by generations of immigrants and refugees,” said Kassa. “We’re a city that put a giant statue in the harbor that said, ‘give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.’”
“That’s the kind of people that we are,” he continued. “And we want to send that message not just to President Trump, not just to Congress, but really to the people of the world.”
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