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Columbus activists protest Trump’s new immigration bill

By Kat Tenbarge
The Columbus Dispatch

(March 7, 2017) — President Donald Trump’s first executive order on immigration was widely derided as a Muslim ban. Activists say his new travel ban hasn’t changed much.

In response to the revamped order that Trump rolled out on Monday, close to 100 people gathered Downtown Tuesday afternoon to protest his plan, saying it’s just another ban on Muslims.

“Refugees from any country, and particularly Muslim countries, because this is a Muslim ban, are basically being used as a scapegoat to create fear-mongering,” said Zerqa Abid, president and founder of MY Project USA, a Muslim service organization committed to protecting immigrant and refugee communities.

The updated travel ban removes Iraq from a list of what are now six Muslim-majority countries whose people cannot get visas to come into the country for at least 90 days. In addition, a 120-day halt on admitting refugees is still in effect.

During the rally, Abid made two points to punctuate her message.

She noted that a report by the city of Columbus found that refugees contributed $1.6 billion to the central Ohio economy in 2015.

Second, she emphasized that no fatal terror attacks have been committed by refugees on American soil since 1980. However, there have been attacks: A Somali refugee was shot dead by an Ohio State University police officer in November after the attacker, an OSU student, drove a car into students and teachers on campus, then slashed at them with a knife, injuring 13 people.

Retired Maj. Gen. Dennis Laich, who served 35 years in the U.S. Army, said the ban on immigration makes America less safe.

“It paints the Muslim faith with a broad brush,” Laich said.

“It impugns Muslims all around the world. These Muslims, who are conservative and responsible and want to see peace in the world, have to be on our side in terms of allies and supporters.”

Laich referred to Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq where some members of the U.S. Army and Central Intelligence Agency committed human-rights violations against detainees, as a key tool in jihadists’ recruitment.

He worries that the president’s new executive order still demonstrates a lack of support and respect for Muslim people that could incite extremist groups.

Out in the rain-drenched crowd on Tuesday, 33-year-old Sarah Washburn agreed that many Americans do not respect their neighbors. She said she came to stand with American immigrants, many of whom she works with and for.

“It’s not targeted at people who are considered terrorists or have committed terrorist acts during the last decade in the United States,” Washburn said of Trump’s actions. “We have way more homegrown terrorists than we do anybody traveling to the United States from these countries.”

Many said that they believe Trump’s revised order differs little from the first, which was shot down by a federal appeals court.

“There was nothing earth-shattering yesterday,” said Jennifer Nimer, executive director for the Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Nothing they try to do to fix it piecemeal is going to be better. It has to be repealed. They have to give up this idea that they can keep Muslims out of the United States. We belong here; we contribute to society.”

The protest was part of Indivisible Columbus’ “Resist Trump Tuesdays.” The group brings a new issue each Tuesday to discuss in front of Sen. Rob Portman’s office Downtown, with the goal of hearing Portman’s opinions toward policies and ideologies that the group deems harmful.

“I did thank Sen. Portman on our behalf for being one of the four Republicans to speak up against any plan to pull back on Medicaid,” Indivisible organizer Meryl Neiman said.

“This is about resisting Trump, and we’re engaging our senator’s support in that battle against some of the more draconian things that are happening. So when he stands up and helps us in that battle, we need to appreciate that.”