At the invitation of U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, more than 500 Kansas City-area residents packed a town-hall meeting Saturday to share stories of woe and celebration from immigrants and refugees concerned about President Donald Trump’s targeted travel ban.
After his first week in office, the president signed an executive order blocking travel into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. He also blocked all refugees for 120 days and indefinitely banned refugees from Syria. The president says the order is intended to keep Americans safe.
Protests erupted around the world, including in Kansas City.
On Friday a federal judge in Seattle ordered a national halt to enforcement of the ban. Immediately the White House vowed to appeal.
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But Cleaver, a Democrat who represents Missouri’s 5th District, said Saturday, “This is not going to be settled until it appears before the Supreme Court.” In the meantime, he vowed, he would do everything in his power to help those affected in his district.
“People are scared,” Cleaver said. “We may not be able to undo what President Trump has done, but we can help find answers about what to do next.”
Cleaver told a story about a 70-year-old slave woman who stood with a broom in hand in the middle of the street when Confederate soldiers road into town. Cleaver told the crowd that when soldiers asked her if she thought she could beat them back with her broom, she replied, “No, but I just want to let you know where I stand.”
“Our job,” Cleaver said, “is to make sure the president of the United States knows where we stand.”
At a news conference before the 2 p.m. town hall at Manual Career and Technical Center on Truman Road, Cleaver called the Trump order “an embarrassment to the United States.”
“There is no logic in this,” Cleaver said. “The seven countries targeted in North Africa and the Middle East have never sent a citizen over here that committed a terrorist act.”
He added, “You make America great by making America available to a wide variety of people.”
Cleaver was joined at the town hall by the consul of Mexico, Alfonso Navarro-Bernachi, and a panel of experts on immigration rights and civil liberties. He said he called the meeting to talk about how the changes to immigration, the potential elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, and changes to the refugee and visa program might affect the lives of residents in his district.
“We are going to give them legal answers,” Cleaver said. “We are going to arm them with the law so that they will know what to do if they are stopped or detained. Knowing the law is what makes people feel safe.”
The search for answers is what brought Felix Makachia, an immigrant from Kenya, to the meeting.
“I want to hear a voice that will energize us and give us hope,” said Makachia, a social worker who has been an American citizen for three years. “This ban is insulting to the U.S. Constitution,” he said, explaining that he held a green card for a decade and “we got through extreme vetting. We try to do the best we can and live a normal life.”
Makachia’s views were repeated by many others. One was Robert Sagustume, 28, a former DACA student from Honduras who is now a green card holder and 2014 graduate of Johnson County Community College.
“My ask today is to make sure we are getting organized and make sure that our representatives are staying accountable.”
Nabil Al-Khalisi, 33, a medical doctor who came the U.S. from Iraq first as a Fulbright Scholar in 2010, is now a green card holder and works at the VA Hospital in Kansas City.
He attended the town hall, he said, “to fight for the system.”
Al-Khalisi, who sought asylum in the U.S., said he’s “happy and lucky to be in America,” but feels that Trump’s order has made him feel less than, “just because I am from Iraq. I did nothing wrong,” Al-Khalisi said.
“I have no other home but the U.S. When the system breaks down, first they come for me. Then they come for you.”