As the nation reacts to President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, members of the Georgetown community joined together in solidarity with students and faculty affected by the ban in a vigil in Red Square on Wednesday night.
About 200 people attended the Hoyas for Justice: Solidarity Vigil, where members of minority groups on campus shared their personal stories relating to the recent changes in federal policy.
Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order temporarily banned entry into the United States for citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, as well as refugees from all nations for 180 days and from Syria indefinitely.
University administrators have identified about 20 students who hold student visas and are citizens of one of the seven countries under the immigration ban: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Libya, according to Senior Director for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh.
Students who spoke at the vigil expressed concern about the effects of Trump’s ban and rhetoric on them and their families’ ability to feel safe in the United States. Participants also expressed their drive to fight back against the ban.
University President John J. DeGioia sent a campuswide email Sunday urging students to “empathize with others in need.”
“We are an institution that values the contributions of our international students, staff and faculty, and we are deeply committed to interreligious dialogue and providing a context in which members of all faith backgrounds are welcomed and encouraged to practice their faith,” DeGioia wrote.
The Georgetown University Student Association released a statement on Facebook and the senate passed a resolution affirming a commitment to solidarity with Muslim students Jan. 29.
“In light of President Trump’s recent executive orders, we recognize the major implications these developments have on several of our Hoya family members,” the statement reads. “We want to reaffirm our love and support for all students on our campus, regardless of religious identity or immigration status. You belong here.”
The Georgetown University College Democrats also supported a statement released Saturday night by the Georgetown University College Republicans speaking out against the executive order.
GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17) also spoke at the solidarity vigil.
Kumail Aslam (COL ’19), one of the organizers of the event, said at the vigil he was inspired to express solidarity by his parents, who instelled in him the message of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
“I think of my mother, who places her belief not in me, not in you, but in the American people, in the good of all humanity,” Aslam said. “When I think about why we do what we do, the tremendously difficult things that we do, it is because we fight to carry on the legacies of the leaders who came before us.”
On-campus organizations have planned events throughout the week to discuss the impacts of the immigration ban and show support for affected communities.
The Iranian Cultural Society hosted an event just before the vigil to write letters to senators and congressmen to urge them to lift the immigration ban. The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the African Studies program, co-sponsored by the School of Foreign Service, also hosted an Emergency Town Hall to respond to the ban on Thursday night, featuring panels of immigration lawyers, members of the D.C. Muslim community and advocates.
GUCD, GUCR and the Alexander Hamilton Society are set to host a phone-a-thon this afternoon at 3 p.m. to senators and congressmen to campaign against the executive order.
Imam Yahya Hendi, Georgetown’s Muslim chaplain, also invited attendees at the vigil to a service in solidarity with Muslims in Bulldog Alley today at 1:30 p.m.
Indra Acharya (COL ’18), who spoke at the vigil, shared his experience being born and raised in a refugee camp and disavowed the Trump administration’s disregard for the human lives of refugees. As a refugee, Acharya said, he was forced to come to the United States where he was labeled a terrorist by his classmates and discriminated against by high school officials.
“Believe me, I was not a terrorist. I was terrorized by the same terrorists that you label as terrorists and for me to hear that this small young child living in Syria, these refugees living in other countries are being labeled as terrorists and denied access to the land that I call home today, it hurts,” Acharya said. “I just don’t understand how on earth we can do this. If we are human, we will be able to understand the challenges, the struggles that people face.”
Sarah Clements (COL ’18), who spoke at the vigil, said in an interview with The Hoya that it is important that the entire Georgetown community join together.
“Even before this election and all of this began happening in our government, the Muslim community and the Jewish community on campus were very close-knit, and I know a lot of my peers in the Jewish community feel a really deep sense of urgency and responsibility to have the backs of our friends,” Clements said.
Muslim Student Association member Kawther Bernahu (COL ’19) said in an interview with The Hoya that it is important for people affected by Trump’s policies and their allies to engage in caring for themselves and one another.
“I just want to highlight that there are other forms of solidarity. When people reached out to me and asked me how I was feeling and what things were like and just showed me on a more intimate level that they were there for me, that also is a form of solidarity,” Bernahu said. “There are a lot of people whose families are being impacted directly and while mobilizing and protesting are important in their own respects, reaching out and having a personal connection is very important during these times.”
While a vigil in solidarity with marginalized members of the campus community is one step in the fight against policies like the executive order, those who attended the vigil must not stop there, according to Zack Abu-Akeel (SFS ’18), who spoke about his role in the Muslim community on campus.
“Being here right now feels right and it feels good and it makes me feel better. It’s an important first step. But I want to center that this is just a first step for all of us. We can’t go home from this and pat ourselves on the back and think we’ve done something. This is just the starting point to galvanize us for action,” Abu-Akeel said.
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