Charlotte activist: Refugee order ‘feeds into politics of fear’

Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Saturday, after Iraqi refugees were detained. President Donald Trump’s executive order suspended all immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
Protesters assemble at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Saturday, after Iraqi refugees were detained. President Donald Trump’s executive order suspended all immigration from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Craig Ruttle AP

Local leaders of Charlotte’s Muslim and Jewish communities were quick to criticize President Donald Trump’s executive order banning refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“It feeds into an Islamophobia and is not making us any safer,” said Jibril Hough, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte.

“It feeds into the politics of fear, makes our country more divided and tarnishes our image across the world,” he said. “It’s a McCarthy-type situation I call a Trumpism.”

A day after signing an executive order implementing the ban immediately, Trump said on Saturday that his crackdown on refugees and citizens from the seven countries “is not a Muslim ban” and is “working out very nicely.”

Confusion, worry and outrage boiled over Saturday as airlines blocked people from traveling to the United States and legal challenges were mounted.

Hough said he learned a Muslim man heading to Charlotte for refugee assistance was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Hough said he didn’t know where the man was from.

It was not clear Saturday if anyone has been detained at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. An airport spokeswoman referred comment to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Atlanta, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union are stationed at airports across the U.S., although not at Charlotte’s airport, a spokesman for the North Carolina chapter said. The ACLU urged anyone who knows someone entering the country from the seven nations to tell them not to sign anything before talking to a lawyer.

A group called New South Progressives said it was organizing a protest at the Charlotte airport Saturday night between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Charlotte Rabbi Judith Schindler, meanwhile, posted online an appeal to “take the pledge to speak out against hate every time you see it or hear it.”

Schindler is associate professor of Jewish studies and director of the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte. Said her posting: “Today, I speak out against the Islamophobia and xenophobia behind Friday’s halting of immigration to our country as criteria are created to discriminate against those from Muslim countries.”

In North Carolina, refugees historically have arrived from a range of countries, including Syria, Iraq and Somalia. Federal funds for refugee assistance in the state totaled more than $5.4 million in fiscal year 2016.

The president’s order will impact some of the people served by International House in Charlotte, executive director Nate Evans said.

“International House is the place where Charlotte welcomes the world,” Evans said in a statement. “While we are not an advocacy organization and avoid partisan politics, it is fair to say that the President’s recent executive orders do not reflect our values as an organization and will have real-life impact on some of our clients.

“The people we serve are our neighbors and they bring value to our community,” Evans said. “International House will continue to serve them and will seek opportunities to educate the broader public on the benefits of diversity.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, an N.C. Republican from Concord, introduced a bill last year that would have temporarily suspended refugee resettlement. He applauded Trump for pausing the flow of Syrian refugees, saying Friday, “The American people want our government to keep us safe.”

In response to a request for comment from the Observer, evangelist Franklin Graham issued this statement late Saturday:

“Samaritan’s Purse is working every day to help refugees in many different areas around the world. For example, just outside Mosul, Samaritan’s Purse has set up a 54-bed emergency field trauma hospital to treat those wounded and fleeing Mosul in the conflict with ISIS.

“Our medical teams are there working 24-7 to help save lives – they’re treating men, women and children every day. We’ve been helping in Iraq for more than 20 years. We’re providing food, heaters, medicine and other relief supplies to Syrian refugees in northern Iraq.

“We’re working in Greece to provide clothing, heaters and other winter supplies to refugees who have fled there from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“As it relates to the United States,” Graham said, “I believe that all people coming from other countries need to be completely vetted. We need to be sure their philosophies related to freedom and liberty are in line with ours. Sharia law, for instance, is ultimately incompatible with the Constitution of this nation.

“I support safe zones in the countries where refugees can flee and find protection. This is much safer than them trying to cross the sea, risking their lives. Let’s take the help to them.”

The Associated Press, The (Raleigh) News & Observer and McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak