Despite rain and sleet, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in New York City’s Battery Park on Sunday to call on elected officials to reject US President Trump’s executive order to bar citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees for 120 days.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the request to reinstate the immigration ban, and it is currently on hold while Trump weighs his options.
The rally, organized by HIAS – a global Jewish nonprofit organization that works to protect refugees – was held as part of a larger National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees, which saw sister rallies taking place across the country.
Protesters demanded that America reopen its doors to refugees fleeing violence and persecution. Under the cover of colorful umbrellas, demonstrators held signs reading, “My people were refugees too” and “Refugees welcome,” as they chanted, “When refugees are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” The chosen location for the rally, Castle Clinton, looks out across Upper New York Bay at the Statue of Liberty, which HIAS, formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, stressed “welcomed thousands of Jewish immigrants to New York City in earlier decades.”
“For the first time in history, the Jewish people are not refugees,” said Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, vice president of community engagement for HIAS. “We are a free and empowered people in America and around the world. And we have a role to play – a responsibility we must live up to. We are called by our mandate to welcome the stranger and to love the stranger. In cities across the country today, Jews are holding rallies, vigils and [taking] action. Together, we are raising our voices up to say that we must keep our doors open to people who are fleeing for their lives.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, an outspoken critic of Trump, was among the city officials who participated in the event. Addressing the crowd, he said the immigration ban reminded him of a quote associated with World War II.
“From the German pastor Martin Niemoller at the time of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, he famously said: ‘First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. And then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me,’” de Blasio said.
“I bring that to you today because this is why we need solidarity. An attack on refugees is an attack on all of us. An attack on our Constitution hurts all of us. Any attempt to divide people by religion hurts all of us. And it leads us to someplace dangerous. And that’s why we stand up against President Trump’s executive order,” he added.
De Blasio’s views were echoed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“The Jewish community is here today to support refugees from around the world. What we are witnessing with this administration is something our people know all too well. At a different time and in a different era, our people, grandparents and great-grandparents were turned away from this country. And we who are here today, the sons and daughters of a previous generation, we say to our refugees: Come one, come all. And we say to Donald Trump: Get out of the way,” he said.
More than 60 synagogues and Jewish organizations co-sponsored the event, including the Anti-Defamation League, whose CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt addressed the crowd, urging support for refugees and discussing ways attendees can get involved further to fight the Trump administration’s ban.
“This takes all of us, not any one organization or group. Our rights are intertwined, and anybody who thinks this is not their fight because they are not a Muslim, that it’s not their fight because they are not an immigrant, that it’s not their fight because these refugees somehow are different than the refugees who came before, those arguments degrade our humanity and ignore our history,” Greenblatt said to thunderous applause.
Following the rally, ADL launched its own #thisisarefugee campaign, with a website that offers resources for people to get involved in the issue, as well as a platform for people to share personal refugee stories.
Greenblatt told The Jerusalem Post
that the initiative emerged out of the organization’s growing concern about the issue.
“The goal is to make it easy for people to get engaged in an issue which we think is of deep importance to the Jewish community,” he explained.
Sunday’s rally was part of HIAS’s ongoing Welcome Campaign, which has engaged more than 260 synagogues and over 1,900 rabbis around refugee advocacy work. Last week, lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint in a federal district court on the refugee agency’s behalf, alleging that the order is unconstitutional because it gives preference to persecuted religious minorities once the refugee resettlement program is resumed. HIAS has also worked to convene and activate the Jewish community across the country in support of refugees, including via a letter HIAS released signed by more than 1,900 rabbis nationwide calling on elected officials to uphold and strengthen the refugee resettlement program.Reuters contributed to this report.