“No ban. No wall. America is for us all.”
“Jews against the Muslim ban”
“The First Americans were seeking religious freedom”
Fluorescent ink signs of America’s civic religion bobbed and swayed atop the wave of peaceful protesters in front of Raleigh Durham International Airport’s Terminal 2, providing a closed-captions summary of why two thousand North Carolinians had so suddenly, and remarkably gathered there.
One woman, a college student at North Carolina State University, had recently received her citizenship at the end of a journey that saw her come to the U.S. as a refugee. She said she came because she knew what it was like for a child not to know if she’d ever find a home again. She was led here by her heart, while the rest of her body followed. And what she hoped for was a saner, fairer policy for an earlier version of herself.
There was a man in his thirties, born and raised in North Carolina, who said he rolled out of bed this morning with a sense of purpose to be a physical representation of the victory of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the Eastern District of New York the night before, where Judge Ann Donnelly did her best to halt the chaotic scenes playing out in detention centers across America’s international airports.
A veteran North Carolina lawyer and former board member of the ACLU herself held aloft a sign with thick lettering, a passage from a statute marked by hand-written section signs (§), the key passages of the statute underlined. It was the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, she said, and she was here because President Trump’s executive order, a naked ban against Muslims, violated the separation of church and state that it had enshrined in that clause—the neon yellow underlines pointed out how for the banner scanners amidst the crowd.
Dozens of families arrived, children perched on shoulders, with one little girl around four years of age, her short bob rustled by the wind as she was held in the air by her father, holding a hastily printed ink-jet photograph of a similar-looking girl with a pony tail, and a message scribbled underneath “This little girl is three years old. She is my cousin. She was denied entry to the U.S.”
Each person, family, and couple holding hands—every group of friends and colleagues huddle in crescents facing the direction of an active chant was a portrait of North Carolina’s humanity—and for me, a former refugee from the former-Yugoslavia, it was a reaffirmation that the state which had given me so much still possessed the spirit that saved hundreds, if not thousands of former-Yugoslavs, and allowed them to become, through hard work, and tens of thousands small civic contributions to the fabric of North Carolina, proud U.S citizens.
There is also another version of me, the newly minted immigration lawyer version, which saw the protests through a different lens, one that showed with clarity that each and every person in the gathered crowd had the ability to continue being civically engaged with the immigration and Constitutional issues that the Trump’s executive order has lain bare. This sort of engagement doesn’t require a law degree or access to high-powered political officers. It’s just born of the power of thousands North Carolinians, in touch with their most hallowed sense of what they know society must be, acting every day.
Our power grows even one Carolinian gets a tickling notion that her friends or family, or the friends of friends and family, are impacted by the unjust immigration ban and other orders, laws, and regulations like it to come, and reaches out to help.
Our power grows when even one Carolinian is inspired by the actions of national organizations that have a track record of carrying out impactful litigation for immigrant rights. The ACLU, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the American Immigration Council, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild are some of the best known national organizations. Stalwart local organizations like the North Carolina Justice Center, ACLU North Carolina, and CWS-Durham are excellent choices for donations locally.
Our power grows when just one Carolinian wishes to help immigrants directly, and goes out to find the proper training – many local lawyers, BIA representatives, and non-profits offer it.
Our power grows when just one Carolinian sees injustice in how a particular immigration provision is being enforced in his community, and drives down to the police stations and local ICE offices to demand justice.
Our power grows when just one Carolinian sees that her place of worship stands for everything that she cherishes in the world, and works to reorient the priorities of her faith organization to make the world into what her prayers wish it would be.
Ultimately, America’s immigration system is an engine which runs on the fuel that We the People feed it. When We the People act on our convictions, the President’s pen can eventually be whittled down to a nub no more powerful than the pens, crayons and markers that created the signs floating atop the masses of citizens getting off of their couches and into the streets and airport terminals to protest.
“All people are welcome, Welcome home to all”—that’s what dozens of signs said on Sunday afternoon. Let us translate those words to action.