Utahns offered love and support Saturday for the world’s refugees, urging elected officials to reject a Trump administration proposal that would all but shut down their resettlement in the United States by next year.
In an event timed with similar “Rise for Refuge” rallies in other cities, about 80 Salt Lake City residents gathered outside City Hall to join in prayers for a welcoming approach to the estimated 70 million people displaced by violence in their home nations.
Faith leaders and others repeatedly called for Americans to put the idea of loving their neighbors into action and turn aside bans on those seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border or in countless refugee camps or war-racked regions of the world.
“These are people who are really suffering and we need to share our love with them,” said the Rev. Gabriel Garang Atem, a Sudanese refugee who is now assistant rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.
While President Donald Trump and his supporters contend that limits on immigration are vital to national security and economic vitality, speakers on Saturday said that view ignored a long-held tradition of the United States as a sheltering haven for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” as inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.
“Hate has never made a nation great,” said Pastor Marlin Lynch, founder of a traveling Christian ministry called Kingdom Huddle. He called instead for grace and compassion in U.S. immigration policy and invoked the Bible’s command to treat others as we would ourselves.
“It sounds beautiful — and it is — when we all follow it,” Lynch said.
Similar demonstrations were planned in nearly two dozens U.S. cities — including outside Trump Tower in New York City. They were organized by two immigration groups, We Are All America and Refugee Congress, which are pressing to end deportations, family separations at U.S. borders and bans on asylum seekers.
Nearly a dozen immigration advocates, religious leaders and public officials spoke at Saturday’s rally, which also featured dancing and musical performances and was sponsored by the office of Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
Though she did not appear at the event, the mayor noted in a statement that Salt Lake City’s tradition of being a home to refugees extends back 172 years to the arrival in Utah of Mormon pioneers seeking refuge from persecution.
She is among U.S. mayors who have vowed to limit participation by their city police forces in a series of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids recently announced by Trump officials.
“To hold true to our values we must do all we can to protect modern-day refugees — pioneers — who are seeking protection and looking for opportunity to grow,” Biskupski said in her statement.
The event at City Hall also featured booths for voter registration, immigration assistance and post card-writing campaigns to members of Congress on behalf of refugees.
Carl Moore, a member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Arizona, gave a prayer and ceremonial dance to the Great Creator on behalf of all marginalized peoples.
“We all need to realize we’re all related,” Moore told the audience. “All humans have value.”
Gloria Arredondo, a poet and immigrant to Utah from Mexico, recalled getting caught up in an immigration raid two decades ago that saw officers try to separate her from her infant daughter. She said recent stories about similar separations today at the Mexican border had rekindled her sense of trauma.
“Today, I am every single mother at the border,” Arredondo said tearfully.
According to Politico, Trump is reportedly discussing a new system of caps that would all but shut down refugee resettlement by 2020, with the potential of stranding thousands who are seeking to come to this country.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told rally attendees Saturday that the diversity immigrants bring to Utah “is the engine that drives our innovation.”
Wilson likened the array of language and economic-assistance services offered by the county to help refugees to “building bridges” for those who have sacrificed to reach a better life.
“I can't imagine the strength it would take to bring your family across forests, deserts or oceans to come to America to be met with the idea that we would be closing our borders for good,” Wilson said.
President Trump, she said, “is wrong. He doesn’t understand family. He doesn't understand sacrifice. And he does not understand the values that we fight for in Utah.”
Through immigration limits Trump has already put into effect by executive order, the number of refugees resettled in Utah has dropped dramatically in recent years, falling from 1,319 in 2016 to 366, according to numbers provided by Biskupski’s office.
Jesse Sheets, development manager for International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, said “zeroing out” refugee resettlement as currently proposed threatened to divide families, many of whom are far along in the process of reaching the United States legally.
Sheikh Yussuf Awadir Abdi, imam of Salt Lake City's Madina Masjid, escaped violence in his native Somalia and lived for 10 years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to Utah nearly 15 years ago.
Now a U.S. citizen, Abdi was temporarily prevented from returning home from a trip to Kenya to collect his family in 2017. His detention came on the heels of Trump’s executive orders blocking or restricting refugees and travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries.
On Saturday, Abdi intoned verses from the Quran and called on members of the audience to convey peace and understanding to people who are suffering.
“All of us are immigrants,” the Muslim leader said. “If you support them and give them an opportunity, they will do a lot of work that will benefit humanity.”