Trump’s executive order on immigration causes intense local backlash

The executive order Trump signed last week prohibits travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries — from entering the United States for 90 days. It also blocks refugees from all countries for 120 days.

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click to enlarge Imam Ismaeel Chartier speaks to a crowd protesting Trump’s immigration ban outside City Hall Jan. 30. - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Imam Ismaeel Chartier speaks to a crowd protesting Trump’s immigration ban outside City Hall Jan. 30.
An unexpected executive order from President Donald Trump banning travel from seven countries and temporarily halting refugee resettlement garnered big pushback in Greater Cincinnati, signaling that the president’s critics here won’t be backing down soon.

The order, which was issued the afternoon of Jan. 27, caused a number of people entering or re-entering the country with greencards or other legal visas to be stranded in airports awaiting deportation and pushed thousands of people to protests in New York, Dallas, Chicago and other cities. It was also the start of a big response here. Those protests came on the heels of massive marches that drew more than 3 million people across the country, including an estimated 10,000 in Cincinnati, to protest Trump’s inauguration.

About 100 protesters gathered at the Greater Cincinnati International Airport the evening of Jan. 29 to protest Trump’s ban. And that was just the start of local pushback to Trump’s order. Cincinnati elected officials on Jan. 30 declared the city a sanctuary city, flying in the face of Trump’s threat to cut certain federal funding from the 200 or so cities which have designated themselves as such. A rally at City Hall a few hours after the announcement drew hundreds.

Despite the big response, it’s unclear how much local protest and Cincinnati’s sanctuary status will do against Trump’s executive order and other promises, including mass deportation efforts against undocumented immigrants.

The executive order Trump signed last week prohibits travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries — from entering the United States for 90 days. It also blocks refugees from all countries for 120 days. That ban includes those with valid green cards and visas, which led to the detention of dozens at major international airports like New York’s JFK. No refugees from the seven countries targeted by the ban have killed anyone on American soil, according to numbers from the right-leaning CATO Institute. 

Local families from Syria, Iran and other countries have been separated due to the ban, and four families slated to enter the United States and live in Cincinnati will no longer be coming, according to Greater Cincinnati Catholic Charities, the refugee resettlement agency designated by the U.S. State Department for the region. 

A diverse group of faith and nonprofit leaders and city, county and state elected officials, including Mayor John Cranley, held a press conference to declare the city a sanctuary city. 

Karen Dabdoub of Greater Cincinnati’s Council on American Islamic Relations applauded the city’s stand while calling Trump’s claim that his immigrant ban isn’t a Muslim ban “patently false.” Other faith leaders echoed those sentiments, calling for an appreciation of diversity and a rollback on the ban.

“We are here today because we are in a national moral crisis,” Cranley said at the news conference. “This city has been for years and will remain a sanctuary city.” 

Cranley specifically cited Syrian refugees in his remarks, equating turning them away to ignoring the plight of European Jews during the Holocaust. That’s a big change of heart — Cranley in 2015 called for a pause on Syrian refugee resettlement here. 

“I understand the dire circumstances Syrian refugees face because I personally visited a refugee camp in Jordan last summer,” Cranley said in a Nov. 15, 2015 statement. “However, the federal government should halt its actions until the American people can beassured that exhaustive vetting has occurred.”

Cranley later apologized for those comments. 

The event marked the first time the mayor or any city official has formally declared Cincinnati a sanctuary city. Council members Wendell Young, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson have worked on ordinances designed to formally designate Cincinnati as such. While there’s no set definition of a sanctuary city, the term generally means municipalities or other local governments don’t aid Immigration and Custom Enforcement officials in deportation efforts against residents solely charged with immigration offenses. 

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac says CPD fits the bill in that regard.

“CPD is in the business of making everyone safe,” he said at the event. “We won’t be enforcing immigration laws.”

City Council members Simpson and Seelbach issued a joint statement the day of Trump’s executive order addressing CPD’s role in immigration enforcement.

“Our police officers’ first priority is to ensure that every Cincinnatian, in every neighborhood, is safe,” Simpson said in the statement. “We want them focused on apprehending the most dangerous and violent offenders, not profiling residents and visitors to fulfill Trump’s divisive agenda. We don’t want that spirit in our city, and we have the right and obligation to residents and taxpayers to use local law enforcement to accomplish, first and foremost, our city’s safety objectives.”

One of the big sticking points to Cincinnati’s sanctuary efforts might be Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s office, which has confirmed it will continue working with federal immigration enforcement efforts even though the Cincinnati Police Department will not. Neil, a Democrat, appeared at a Trump campaign rally in March last year. 

Cincinnati’s sanctuary move has drawn some criticism. On Jan. 31, a group including Cincinnati City Councilman Charlie Winburn, Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel and Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel held a news conference slamming the announcement, saying it amounted to selective enforcement of the law.

“Unfortunately we have people like John Cranley and others who are trying to play politics,” Mandel said. “Over our dead body will Cincinnati become a sanctuary city.”

Hours after the announcement, hundreds turned out in frigid temperatures for the rally outside Cincinnati City Hall on Monday. Local immigrant and refugee advocates like Joe Sack helped organize that event. Sack helps run Refute and Rally, an organization that seeks to combat fear of Muslims and immigrants. 

Chanting “no ban, no wall,” the group overflowed the wide sidewalk in front of City Hall and spilled into Plum Street. During the two-hour event, immigrants, refugees, advocates and elected officials gave remarks about welcoming immigrants. 

“You are the dream of the immigrant grandparents,” said Imam Ismaeel Chartier of Clifton Mosque. “Do not let that dream die. Do not let that dream be taken by a tangerine man who does not love anything but his own self. ” 

Masoud Ghaffari, now a U.S. citizen who came here from Iran years ago for graduate school, stood in the crowd. His young daughter sat on his shoulders holding an American flag. 

“I’m here to defend American values,” he said. “Where I come from, these values don’t exist. Treating others with respect. Respect for the law. Not having one so-called president deny peoples’ legal rights with the stroke of a pen. That’s what I’m here for.”

For a portion of the rally, a lone Trump supporter stood on the margins of the crowd, shouting “Trump’s America is the real America” and holding a sign that read “diversity means hunting down the last white person.” 

Seelbach supported the mayor’s announcement but also called for further legislation that would solidify the city’s commitment to shelter immigrants and refugees. 

“The status quo is not good enough,” he said. ©

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