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C Civil Rights

Trump's travel ban prompts protests in Tampa

By Paul Guzzo and Kathryn Varn, For Tampa Bay Times, On 30 January 2017, Read Original

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There is a statue in Ybor City's Centennial Park depicting a recently arrived immigrant family of four. On its base, it reads, "To those courageous men and women who came to this country in search of personal freedom, economic opportunity and a future of hope for their families."

On Sunday evening, two days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning citizens from some predominantly Muslim nations from coming to the United States, hundreds gathered at Centennial Park to speak out against what they believe to be a White House with anti-immigrant policies.

"This is a community founded by immigrants," Ana Lamb, a leader with the League of United Latin American Citizens, said of Ybor, which was built in the late 1800s by Cubans, Spaniards, Italians, Germans and Jews. "This place shows the good that happens when people come together."

Among the Centennial Park protestors who would later march through Ybor's Seventh Avenue was Johnny Wong.

The 31-year-old Tampa resident is of Chinese and French descent. In 2009, he converted to the Muslim faith and is now married to a Muslim woman.

They hoped to send her parents, Muslims originally from Bangladesh and now residing in the area, to Mecca. That trip to Islam's holiest city, located in Saudi Arabia, was to be an anniversary present for his in-laws.

"I don't think we're doing it now," Wang said, citing fear that they would not be allowed to return home despite being citizens or would be hassled.

"It doesn't appear that 2017 is the year of the Muslim," he said.

Trump's executive order indefinitely barred Syrian refugees, suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days and blocked citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days.

In response to a court petition filed by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal judge on Saturday night issued an emergency order that temporarily bars the United States from deporting people who arrive with valid visas from those nations.

Tampa International Airport spokeswoman Janet Zink said Sunday that no one had been detained at the airport and no direct flights from the seven countries listed in Trump's order are anticipated.

The executive order sparked confusion and fear within Florida's Muslim-American community, said Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. The group was inundated with thousands of calls for help over the weekend, many from people with family members who live in one of the seven countries.

They are working to distribute information and legal advice to ease what he called a "traumatic experience" for Muslim-Americans whose lives are in limbo.

The University of South Florida's Office of International Services sent advice to international students recommending they consult with the office before making plans for international travel.

Scattered protests broke out around the country, including a demonstration in Tampa late Saturday. About three dozen protesters assembled at the corner of Kennedy and West Shore boulevards.

Protestors also showed up at Tampa International Airport in the Red departure area on Saturday, airport police confirmed.

There will be another protest today from noon to 3 p.m. at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza on the University of South Florida's Tampa campus.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, voiced her support for Muslims by calling the travel ban "illegal" and "un-American."

Tampa City Council members Guido Maniscalco and Luis Viera were at the Ybor rally and said as descendants of immigrants they stand with the Muslim community.

Lisa Higgins, 54, who was at the Ybor rally, does not expect any of the protests to persuade Trump to change his stance on immigration. But she said she hopes they can spur good people to run for Congress to fight Trump.

Sharon Saaf, also at the Ybor protest, is confident that will happen.

"I'm 80 years old," she said. "I've seen it all. If there is one thing I've learned, it's that goodness will overcome."

Times staff writers Josh Solomon and Howard Altman contributed to this report, which was supplemented with information from the Associated Press. Contact Paul Guzzo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (813) 226-320. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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