The 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, takes office amidst widespread protests taking place throughout the country. The city of Seattle marked Inauguration Day for one of America’s most controversial incoming presidents with a day of action in support of immigrants and refugee.
During his campaign, incoming President Donald Trump used rhetoric and espoused policies that many deemed disparaging to immigrants and refugees, and his messages have left these community members with fears about their future under a Trump administration.
The Seattle United for Immigrant and Refugee Families event is being held at McCaw Hall on Inauguration Day. The city has partnered with several local rights organization to provide free legal services to an expected 1,000 attendees. Hundreds of volunteers are gathering to help residents seeking help to complete their citizenship paperwork and advice regarding their immigration status.
“The mayor felt it was important to send a message to the [incoming president], who during the campaign trail said a lot of very inflammatory things about immigrants and refugees,” says Joaquin Uy, Ethnic Media and Communications Specialist at the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. “[This includes] referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists, talking about building a wall that the U.S. will not be paying for, as well as creating a deportation force and other really problematic rhetoric, such as possibly instituting a Muslim registry.”
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has been forthright about reaffirming Seattle as a city that will protect all of its residents, including immigrants, Muslims, and LGBTQ community members. The day after the election of Donald Trump, Mayor Murray announced that Seattle will continue to be a “sanctuary city,” vowing to protect the rights of all residents. Addressing the residents of the city in a news conference on Nov. 9, he said, “To our Muslim brothers and sisters: This country has never had a religious test and this city will stand up and support us never having a religious test.”
On November 24, the mayor signed an executive order affirming Seattle as a Welcoming City, where immigrants and refugees are welcome and where residents will be served and protected regardless of their immigration status. The order also announced a strategy to allocate $250,000 in funding to “address the needs of unauthorized immigrant children and family members in Seattle Public Schools.”
“A lot of people have been concerned about not only comments that [the incoming president] made about people from many different communities but also about [the fact] that he has indicated that he is planning on putting in place policies that many people disagree with,” says Jorge Barón, the executive director of Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, one of the organizations involved in planning and administering the event. “There is just such a range of concerns,” says Barón. “There are undocumented parents worried about being separated from their children. There are youth worried about their parents. There is a lot of concern about what’s going to happen to folks who are currently protected under DACA (Defered Action for Childhood Arrivals), which provides temporary protection for certain undocumented people.”
Echoing Barón’s comments is Mahnaz Eshetu, executive director of Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), another organization involved in the Friday day-of-action event. ReWA provides services to women and families of refugees. “People are really worried about their rights,” says Eshetu. “They are asking ‘What are my rights?’ ‘What is going to happen to my children?’ ‘What’s going to happen to my house?’” The event, she says, is aimed at reducing anxiety among immigrants by educating them about their rights.
Services provided for free during the January 20 event include advice from immigration attorneys and experts in filling out citizenship paperwork; consultation about immigrant rights, regardless of status; help filling out forms to protect children and family members; and help with other questions that attendees may have regarding their immigration status.
“We recognize that immigrants and refugees can be some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” says Uy. “We want to protect them — the campaign trail rhetoric does not reflect the values of the city of Seattle.”
@Lailakaz — Laila Kazmi is an award-winning senior producer and writer at KCTS 9. Her first love is discovering and telling stories of diverse people, places, and history. She has lived in Karachi, Bahrain, Chicago, and Seattle. Laila is the series producer for Borders & Heritage, which features stories of immigrant and refugee experience in the Pacific Northwest and for Reel NW, featuring independent films from and about the Pacific Northwest. She also produces stories for IN Close and produced for PIE. Laila's video stories have appeared on KCTS 9, PBS NewsHour Art Beat, World Channel at WGBH, and KPBS. Her articles have been published in PBS NewsHour Art Beat, The Seattle Times, Seattle PI, COLORLINES, and Pakistan's daily Dawn.More stories by Laila Kazmi