- Leslie Newell Peacock
- CONTACT ARKANSAS'S CONGRESSIONAL STAFF: And do it "again and again and again," ACLU director Rita Sklar told the crowd gathered at Sunday's rally.
It's clear evidence of local widespread shock and disgust at the actions of President Trump in his first 10 days in office that in less than 24 hours, and just a day after people rallied at the state Capitol in support of reproductive rights, nearly a thousand people showed up again Sunday for a spur-of-the moment protest of his immigration ban.
Trump's executive order banning entry into the United States of people from seven Muslim nations left students, professors, professionals and families with legal tourist visas and green cards, and even some American citizens, stranded in airports, and produced massive protest demonstrations at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and in Washington and Boston.
Several leaders at University of Arkansas System campuses made statements expressing their concern. On Monday, University of Arkansas Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said "well over 100" people on campus who hold study, tourist and work visas were affected by the ban, including students and faculty, and that two students had to return to Iran from Frankfurt, Germany, where they were stopped from continuing on their return to Fayetteville. "The international students and scholars who choose Arkansas as their academic home away from home are a valuable part of our community," Steinmetz said in a statement.
In a letter to chancellors, UA System President Dr. Donald Bobbitt wrote, "It is in the true spirit of what institutions of higher learning can offer culturally and intellectually to honor and respect contributions from everyone, including those from the seven countries immediately impacted by the executive order." He said the administration was "gathering all relative information from our campus and the extent of the effect this will have on students, faculty and staff at our institutions."
There are 55 UA Little Rock students from countries covered under the ban, according to a spokesman. Chancellor Andrew Rogerson said Tuesday that the campus was monitoring the situation. "Our international students, faculty, researchers, and employees are an integral part of the UA Little Rock community, and we are here to support all of our community," Rogerson said in a statement. "Our institution is committed to the richness of diversity and the global perspective that international students, faculty, and staff bring to us."
Also expressing concern was 2nd District Congressman French Hill, a Republican, who criticized the implementation of Trump's ban: "The design and implementation appear unreasonable and have unintended consequences for law-abiding citizens of both the United States and other nations. While modest inconveniences are acceptable in order to keep our homeland safe, blocking U.S. green-card holders, students and professors possessing proper visas, and those extraordinary men and women who have aided us in our global war on terror is not acceptable."
Sophia Said, director of the Interfaith Center in Little Rock, Christy Hendrickson Marquis and City Director Kathy Webb organized Sunday's protest the evening before, getting the word out through social media. The crowd, gathering at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, continued to grow as participants sent images and messages from the speakers through Twitter and Facebook.
Said, the emcee, said she asked herself Saturday night if people would have the energy to stage one more protest of the president's policies, this one to protect the U.S. from "terrorists," like the two American citizens in Chicago and the Iraqi interpreter who worked with the U.S military for a decade, each detained over the weekend. She concluded that people cared, and she had to act.
After invocations by Said and Episcopal priest Susan Sims Smith, executive director at the Interfaith Center, former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Clinton Imber Tuck spoke as a member of Temple B'nai Israel, saying, "As Jews we know the impact of religious profiling." A young Arkansas woman who described herself as a "Muslim, a lawyer and a patriot" and a graduate of Central High School lamented the fact that soldiers — "heroes" — were being prohibited from entering the country under Trump's ill-conceived executive order. A Syrian immigrant who is a physician in Little Rock noted the desperation of refugees who have drowned attempting to flee the war-torn country; his own brother was killed by a sniper and his sister was forced to leave her home because of the bombing. A woman whose husband emigrated to the U.S. from Syria is now a cardiologist at the Veterans Administration hospital, healing American vets, she told the crowd.
Interspersed between the speeches was the call and response: Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like.
Rita Sklar, the executive director of the Arkansas ACLU, was nearly in tears as she addressed the group, telling them of the legal work the organization had done in the past 24 hours to stop Trump's order. She asked the group that if they know people being detained, to go online to acluarkansas.org and fill out a complaint. She also told the crowd that democracy also looks like contacting Arkansas's congressional staff no matter what you think their reaction will be, and to do it "again and again and again."
"I am the granddaughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, and today, until the end of this trouble, I am Muslim with all of you," Sklar declared.
Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) told the gathering that "What President Trump did was against the law ... and breaks faith with the American spirit. ... The American dream is not restricted to people born in American, and if you love this nation, you are a patriot no matter where you were born."
Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) injected a darker note into the talks, saying she was thinking about her own ancestry: "Do not forget that the very DNA of this country is the separation of families who look like mine." So, she warned, we should not be caught by surprise at such hateful actions as those of Trump's, but must instead be always prepared to fight them.
Saturday's event, organized by the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice, drew several hundred people to hear speakers make a wide-ranging case for abortion rights, transgender rights and the Affordable Care Act.
Elliott told Saturday's crowd that her colleagues — "not one of them a doctor" — had voted to criminalize women's health care without regard to them, their families or their physicians. She was referring to a bill from state Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley) signed Friday by Governor Hutchinson, prohibiting the use of dilation and evacuation as a method of abortion for women starting at 12 weeks pregnant. It is the second measure in two years to punish women for their choice to abort. Two years ago, a bill that required doctors to use an outmoded protocol for a medical abortion was passed by lawmakers who knew that what they were doing would require women to undergo a more painful procedure to terminate an unwanted, or wanted but untenable, pregnancy. Fortunately, the FDA ditched the older, more painful drug protocol the legislation wanted to force doctors to abide by.
Dilation and evacuation is the safest procedure doctors use for what is a legal medical procedure protected under the U.S. Constitution. That leaves women who discover at 12 weeks or more they are pregnant and wish to have an abortion with only option, apparently: delivery, in a hospital, which presents a greater health risk to women. The ACLU has promised to sue, noting that the law causes an undue burden on women to express a constitutional right.
Speakers also addressed barriers to transgender men who need gynecological care, sexual assault on campus and the need for quicker action and support of those who are assaulted and the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, including free access to contraceptives, and the impact that's had on reducing the need for abortion. Camille Richoux, who is seeking a master's degree at UAMS' College of Public Health and is insured under the ACA, noted that the law Congress is now seeking to repeal has meant that people no longer need to file for bankruptcy because of medical bills, that because of the act, Americans no longer need to be rich to get good health care.
Injecting a little levity into the weekend rallies was a sign reading, "If I have to keep protesting Trump, like every single weekend, when will I have time to go to Oaklawn?"