by Geoff Rushton
Members of the State College and Penn State community on Sunday gathered in front of the Allen Street gates to voice their opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Signed by Trump on Friday, the order bans individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from entering or re-entering the United States for 90 days, suspends refugee admissions for 120 days and suspends the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely.
Protests erupted nationwide on Saturday and Sunday as individuals from those countries were detained or turned away at airports.
A smaller protest came together spontaneously Saturday night in the same spot in downtown State College. Pasma Ayad, a Penn State junior, helped organize the protests on Saturday and Sunday.
“The message is to show that this land is welcoming to everyone,” Ayad said. “It’s for all refugees. No one should be not allowed to enter if they’re legally supposed to be allowed.”
Fellow Penn State junior Fanta Conde also helped organize the protests. She said she wants refugees and immigrants to know that there are people standing with them.
“We will keep fighting for their rights and their freedoms,” Conde said. “We cannot be free ourselves so long as they are not. We’re glad to see such an amazing turnout and that so many people are supporting this. We want to convey the message that this is what America looks like.”
State College Borough Council member Jesse Barlow was among the protestors as well.
Barlow helped to initiate an immigration enforcement resolution that council passed unanimously on Jan. 9. It states that council “believes that enforcing immigration law is a federal responsibility and it is not the responsibility of local officials to enforce immigration law,” and adds that “the State College Council will not voluntarily assist in any efforts by the federal government to apprehend, detain or deport community members.”
Enforcing immigration laws, according to the resolution, would negatively affect the borough’s “commitment to non-discrimination, public safety and the equal provision of local services.” The resolution also opposes any policies that would “register or track individuals based on religion, ethnicity, national origin, nationality, or citizenship as a law enforcement tool.”
Borough leadership said on Friday that the resolution does not establish State College as a so-called “sanctuary city.”
At Sunday’s protest, Barlow said he wants the immigrant communities of State College to know they are welcome.
“This is an area that we have a strong immigrant community here. They are very important to us,” Barlow said. “This is a diverse community. We want our people to feel safe and welcome in this community. That’s why we passed the resolution. These recent executive orders on immigration are an offense to our Constitution and our values.”
In December, borough council passed a resolution on its commitment to equity and inclusion that condemned “Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia, in rhetoric or action.”
While protestors were gathered at the foot of the Penn State campus, university President Eric Barron issued a message that said Penn State is joining with other universities in calling for an end to the immigration ban.
Barron said that to his knowledge no Penn State students or faculty from those countries are currently traveling abroad.
“But the problems that are surfacing with the order are clear, and we join the Association of American Universities and universities all across the country in asking that the order be ended as soon as possible,” Barron wrote, noting reports of students and faculty at other U.S. universities being stranded because of the order.
Barron urged international students and faculty to carry their immigration documentation while traveling in the United States and to avoid traveling abroad until “greater clarity is apparent.”
Also on Sunday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro joined attorneys general from 16 states in a joint statement condemning Trump’s immigration order, calling it “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful.”
The statement said they were confident the order would ultimately be struck down by the courts.
“In the meantime, we are committed to working to ensure that as few people as possible suffer from the chaotic situation that it has created,” they wrote.