Hours after Donald Trump signed an executive order attempting to choke sanctuary cities off from federal funding and build a Mexican border wall, Elsie and her mother Nereida joined roughly 2,000 people in Washington Square Park to protest the president’s attack on their existence.
“Many of my family is undocumented right now, or they’re trying to work to get their documents, and many of them are scared that they’re not going to be able to with Trump,” Elsie, a 23-year-old Queens resident and citizen, told the Voice. “It makes them lose hope. They’re very scared to even try and push forward towards their citizenship.”
Asked if she was confident that New York could prevent Trump from dismantling its sanctuary status, she began talking about the city’s diversity, before her mother interrupted her.
“But I think this time, I feel nervous, because it’s scary,” Nereida said. “Every day when Trump speaks, he says something bad about immigrants.”
Ikra Zulfiqar and Meryem Hasan said they were at the rally in part because of Trump’s plans to restrict people from traveling from Muslim countries into the United States.
“My parents weren’t born here, they came here from another country. And for him to say that immigration is wrong or we’re not accepting certain people goes against everything this country stands for and what it was founded on,” Zulfiqar said. “And it really just goes against what I’ve grown up believing, which is: everyone has a chance to come here and to make something of themselves.”
Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, and one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, was one of many public figures to speak at the rally.
“I am not afraid. I will not be silenced or intimidated. I stand here unapologetically Muslim, Palestinian, and most of all, from Brooklyn, New York,” Sarsour told the crowd.
“Sisters and brothers, the revolution is here. You gotta make a choice: stand up, or get out of our way. We got not time for people who want to pick and choose what issues they want to work on. The time for intersectional activism is now.”
Sarsour also carried a message for those frustrated with the current stock of Democratic leadership who seem reluctant to fully resist Trump’s agenda: “Keep your eyes on the primaries, because we’re going to Tea Party them like they Tea Partied us.”
Councilmember Jumaane Williams reminded the crowd that the racism and xenophobia that Trump capitalized on “is what America is.”
“If we look American history, this rhetoric has always been there. And we have to face that fact if we want to win. But what I’m most proud of, is that even in the face of all of that, we have always been here. The resistance has always been there,” Williams said. “The brightest stars shine when it’s darkest. Trump has made it dark, and we are going to shine bright. We are going to be those lights. We’re going to be the ones that history’s gonna look back and say ‘Who the hell is Trump? But thank God for the people in Washington Square Park.Thank god for the people who pushed back.’”
Nia I., a CUNY law student, echoed Williams’ perspective, but with less optimism.
“A lot of people were surprised by his election, I wasn’t. A lot of people were surprised by his executive orders today, I wasn’t,” she said. “I think there’s a long history in the U.S. of violating the rights of immigrants, dehumanizing them, and criminalizing people who try to support them. I think New York can certainly fight it, but I don’t know what the outcome will be.”
With additional reporting from Nick Pinto.