Candles lit up Coolidge Park Wednesday evening when an estimated 1,200 Chattanoogans attended a vigil for refugees banned by President Trump’s immigration order.
They chanted in unison with speakers that represented various immigrant, refugee, and religious groups.
“We all belong here,” they said “Let them stay.”
The executive order has halted refugees and citizens from 7 majority Muslim countries for up to 4 months. Syrians have been banned from coming altogether. Mr. Trump said the ban is to prevent terrorist attacks.
Vigil organizers disagree that the ban will keep American safe. Marina Peshterianu, Associate Director of Bridge Refugee Services, said the ban has caused fear and confusion.
“It affected all the refugees that were in transit to our community. There were 20 people who already had their tickets. Seven families, half of them children. All of these people were coming from different countries but were affected by one stroke of the pen.”
Bridge Refugee Services Inc., helps refugees and asylees with finding employment, housing, and learning English after arriving in Chattanooga.
“We know there will be no arrivals in the next four months. We have to retract all our commitments to landlords and apartment complexes. And it's a heartbreaking experience. “
A group of teenage Muslim girls attended the vigil wearing hijabs to celebrate World Hijab Day. Pakistani immigrant Iman Ali, a student at Girls Preparatory School, was among them.
“My dad had been working with Bridge Refugee Services," she said, "and there is a family from Iraq who was going to come. And we had been collecting our clothes, and our coats, and some boots- my favorite boots. I was going to give them to one of the little girls. And they are no longer able to find refuge here. So that hurt. It just sort of reaffirms the fact that a lot of people don’t see us as equal and as Americans.”
Muslim community members said they were shocked and moved by the large turnout. Police estimated 1,200 were in attendance.
Organizer Sara Scott said she wants the vigil to be just the beginning of Chattanooga showing unity for refugees. She urged people to call their congressional representatives.
Chattanooga's U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann has come out in favor of Mr. Trump's ban.
“The United States of America has a very proud tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees," he wrote in a statement. "However, we are living in an unprecedented time. Many foreign governments, like Syria, are falling apart. This is hindering our ability to properly vet those who wish to enter our country." Fleischmann did add that he sees flaws in the order's implementation, and hopes they are fixed immediately.
At the vigil, Sara Scott asked people to "talk to your family, talk to your neighbors, talk to your co-workers.... we are talking about human beings. Not objects, not commodities, but human beings.“