C Civil Rights

ACLU panel: Immigration order is 'testing the waters'

By Elizabeth Djinis, For Herald Tribune, On 03 February 2017, Read Original
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SARASOTA - President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration is just the beginning of expected measures that will impede civil liberties, one panelist said during a community discussion on Muslim registries and surveillance in America held Thursday evening.

More than 190 people crowded into a Selby Library meeting room for the event hosted by the Sarasota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. At least 20 other people who could not fit in the room stood waiting outside, hoping to hear bits of the presentation. It was a topic resonated given Trump's recent immigration ban.

"What we saw now with this recent immigration executive order was Donald Trump testing the waters," said panelist Muaaz Hassan, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida's Islamophobia and communications director. "Things that come will be much worse. Unless we collectively work together, an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us."

On Friday night, Trump signed an executive order preventing all refugees from coming into the country for 120 days, barring Syrian refugees indefinitely and banning the entrance for 90 days of immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The order left many stranded at U.S. airports over the weekend, as well as those who were in transit in other foreign countries. People led protests at airports across the country where people were detained. Trump's reasoning for the ban was that they were "new vetting measures" to keep out "radical Islamic terrorists."

The following day, part of the order was blocked by a federal judge in Brooklyn, stopping the deportation of some affected individuals already on U.S. soil. It is unclear how the rest of the order will be handled, namely how those attempting to enter the U.S. from one of the listed countries or as a refugee will be treated in the future.

Thursday evening's panel was led by Hassan, Michael Barfield, vice president of the ACLU of Florida, and New College political science professor Keith Fitzgerald, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives from Sarasota.

Barfield updated the audience on how the ACLU, which represented the plaintiffs in the suit against the government, will continue to handle this order going forward.

"The legal process that's going to play out in court will be challenging, yearslong, and eventually it will go to the (U.S.) Supreme Court," Barfield said, adding that the order "was not a surprise to us; the ACLU was very prepared for this, because this is what (Trump) said he would do during the campaign."

While Trump's staff has said the order is meant to enhance national security, Fitzgerald argued that a blanket policy like the immigration ban does not do so.

"This has nothing to do with the security of the people of the United States," Fitzgerald said. "If you're a 74-year-old grandma coming back from visiting your grandchildren, you're treated the same way as someone who might be up to no good."

One member of the audience, a man who said he was from Jordan and had lived an "easy and simple life" in the U.S., asked why Trump should not be given a chance to protect the country with this system.

As he spoke, someone from the audience shouted, "Go home." But Hassan answered his question, explaining that vetting is a process already undertaken by the U.S. government.

"We're not saying we shouldn't vet. Refugees and immigrants who come from those countries are extremely well-vetted," Hassan said. "The odds of being killed by a refugee from one of those seven countries is one in 3.6 billion."

The ACLU's next task, according to Barfield, is determining how many immigrants and refugees are detained in airports across the world because of this ban. But Barfield estimates that "the government itself doesn't even know the number."

Hassan implored the audience at one point to turn its empathy into action to protect civil liberties.

What the government "doesn't know how to do very well is deal with nonviolence, compassion, deal with love," Hassan said. "This is what they can't take away from us. These are our most powerful tools. Let them see how much love we have for each other."

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