CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- President Donald Trump's executive order that temporarily bans admission of refugees was met with a strong backlash at a Tuesday night vigil in Chappaqua, which is home to his election opponent, Hillary Clinton.
At the interfaith gathering, which was held at a downtown gazebo and recreational field, multiple speakers denounced the ban, which suspends the admission of refugees for 120 days. Critics, according to media reports, note that Trump's order affects seven Muslim-majority countries and argue, therefore, that it constitutes a de facto ban on Muslims from admission.
“The U.S. refugee resettlement program has been, and should remain, open to those of all nationalities and religions who face persecution," said Rev. Martha Jacobs, a co-chair of the Chappaqua Interfaith Council. "We oppose any policy change that would prevent refugees or individuals who practice Islam and other faiths from accessing these programs.”
Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe, the council's other co-chair, offered similar concerns.
“So many of our ancestors sought a better life here in America, free from persecution," he said. "Yet today we encounter a policy that asks, 'what does this ritual mean to you, to you and not to us?' It thereby denies a foundational principle of our nation: to light the lamp of freedom and liberty for all in search of refuge, regardless of religion, regardless of creed.”
Four teenagers, who spoke on behalf of different religious communities, linked the situations of the refugees to their own family immigration histories.
Marc Stern, who spoke on behalf of a group of Jewish teenagers, noted that his ancestors fled persecution by Nazi Germany in the 1940s, arriving in the United States after a 16-month ordeal that involved a circuitous route through Spain and then Cuba.
“Like probably everyone here today, my ancestors were refugees," Stern said. "With all that is going on in our country today, not accepting refugees makes me think of what would have happened if my family had been turned away. If they had not been allowed into this country and been sent back to Europe, I might not be lucky enough to stand here today.”
Hamza Tahir, a Muslim whose grandparents came to the country from Pakistan, compared their pursuit of the American dream to that of the Puritans who arrived in the 1600s.
“The American dream of my grandparents did become a reality, and it also did for generations of immigrants prior to them, all the way back to the age of the Puritans, when the American dream was still in its infancy.”
Tahir added that it is fear that has resulted in people acting discriminatorily towards Muslims.
“This fear is channeled into acts of discrimination, whether it be verbal or in worse cases physical.”
Katie Thorsberg, a white speaker representing the Christian community, traced her American lineage to the colonial era. While Thorsberg noted that she has not personally experienced discrimination, she spoke in solidarity with other groups who have.
“I can understand that people are scared of what they do not know, but until we share each other's experiences we will all continue to be ignorant citizens," she said. "Those of us that are lucky enough to be protected need to stand up for those that are being persecuted.”
Kiran Sheth, who represented the Hindu community, recalled how he immigrated to the United States in 2009, and how his family came from India and England. In his remarks, Sheth passionately argued that people need to come together and learn from each other's experiences.
“It is imperative that we all should be respectful and understanding of one another. It is vital that we share one another's experiences and recognize that we are all united and undivided.”
Demonstrators came with signs; one advocated impeaching Trump while others took his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," and fashioned it into a pro-refugee play on words. Several attendees wore labels denoting their ancestors' countries of origin.
More than 200 people showed up to the vigil, Jacobs told Daily Voice, citing the number of candles that were picked up to hold for part of the demonstration.
The event came about due to discussion among the council, Jacobs recalled. The vigil drew also drew support from several local groups, including the New Castle Inclusion and Diversity Committee, the Westchester Refugee Task Force, Up2US and the Pleasantville Clery Association.
Among the speakers was New Castle Town Supervisor Rob Greenstein, who read a November letter from the town board denouncing bigotry.
“We are all immigrants and it's what made our country great," Greenstein told Daily Voice.