About 75 protesters on Public Square said President Donald Trump’s executive order barring non-U.S. citizens of seven nations from entering the country harms peaceful immigrants and is ineffective in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks. Local representatives say the order only aims to maintain safety.
Maria Sanchez-Ley is a Collinsville immigration attorney from Colombia who came to the U.S. more than 30 years ago. She said she is advising her clients not to travel because of the uncertain atmosphere.
“I have never seen such hostility,” Sanchez-Ley said. “From my clients, I do not only hear; I feel their pain. I feel their fear, and I am, as well as the other immigration attorneys, in complete solidarity with them.”
Republican leaders emphasize that the ban is not on Muslims, though the affected countries are predominantly Muslim countries.
“And there are many other countries that are predominantly Muslim that are not impacted by this,” Ashley Phelps, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said in a statement on Sunday.
But Sanchez-Ley says the order still has a negative effect on Muslim immigrant populations.
“Even though the executive order does not include, as I recall, the word ‘Muslim,’ it does reflect the anti-immigrant sentiment they have toward immigrants from these seven countries,” Sanchez-Ley said.
Nadia Hamdan, of Belleville, is a Muslim woman who immigrated to the U.S. from Jerusalem. She said until recently she “lived in peace,” but she said she is now sometimes scared to go outside because people tell her to go back to her country and to take off her headscarf. Nadia’s daughter, Ayah, attended the protest with her and said people joke about the ban with her at school, though she says there’s nothing funny about it.
“America’s built off of immigration. I don’t think that’s something Trump has the right to take away,” Ayah said.
A group of protesters visited the downtown Belleville office of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, to express their views. Though Bost was not in his office, the protesters said an intern took their names and attentively listened to their concerns. Alex Enyart, a local attorney who helped organize the event, said the protest was aimed directly at pressuring Bost to change his opinion.
A spokesman for Bost said Sunday the congressman “believes the top priority of the federal government is to keep the American people safe,” the order being a part of that priority.
Shannon Russell, a Belleville man who also helped organize the protest, said the order is a “false choice” that is not effective in keeping the U.S. safe.
“What Trump has done with this executive order would not have stopped the terrorist attacks that happen in our country,” Russell said. “This does not seem to be the solution. This does not seem to be fixing the problem they’re trying to fix. The problem is an ideology, and you can’t kill an ideology with a wall.”
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus on Sunday defended the ban, saying it will give the U.S. time to “evaluate and improve the vetting process.”
There were no counterprotests during Tuesday’s event, and a Belleville police officer said everyone was following the rules to stay on the sidewalk and off the street.